Lately I’ve been experiencing some of what comedian Louis CK refers to as White People Problems. This is when middle class people like myself encounter “problems” that those less fortunate would view as something akin to a scrape on the knee. Former ice skater Nancy Kerrigan’s plaintive cry of “Why, why, why?” has more credibility than my own weeping act, since at least in her case she literally was clubbed on the knee. I can’t make the same claim.
My traumas are more about bruised feelings and a temporary loss of money. Boo hoo.
Nevertheless, an unexpected setback is having me hallucinate at alleged enemies near and far (mostly far). I am seeing conspiratorial forces whose primary objective is to take me down a notch or two and brazenly make my life as miserable as possible. I’d ask for your sympathy but I already realize I don’t deserve it. As problems go, even the Kardashian women probably would roll their eyes at mine.
It all started last week when I traveled to Michigan for a funeral. In the midst of offering support to a family member, Gorgeous frantically called on my cell after she opened a letter from my retirement HR office, the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM). My pals there wrote to inform me that because I made over the allowed amount for outside income in 2015, I now lose an annuity supplement that I am eligible to collect until I turn age 62.
Sure enough, a quick look-see at my checking account online confirmed that my August annuity deposit looked about as low as a hangdog puppy caught trashing your living room’s carefully arranged feng shui design. It was sadder than sad to see.
I began receiving this supplement in April of this year, five months after it was supposed to have been automatically included in my retirement annuity. It took countless phone calls to get started.
The rules for my continuing to receive it are rather straight forward: any outside income I make in excess of $15,720 (the same earnings cap for Social Security recipients), the government will deduct one dollar for every two I make that is over that limit. As long as I stay under the cap, this supplement remains on auto-pilot until I turn 62, when, theoretically anyway, OPM assumes I will begin Social Security payments.¹
But to alert readers of this blog who are somewhat familiar with the ramblings of my activities, I’m hoping that your reaction to this letter is the same as mine was:
“Huh?! Outside income? WTF!”
If nothing else, I’ve been pretty clear in the last two years that my priorities have been to do as VERY LITTLE as possible. Just off the top of my head, let’s see, I think we…
Watch enough really old TV shows to make Della and Perry occasional characters in this blog? Check.
Brag about all the books I’ve been able to read? Check.
Well, you get the idea. Much to the consternation of my ex-wife and a handful of skeptical friends and family members, I’ve made it a point of pride since retiring not to engage in any activity that results in a steady and reliable paycheck.
But hey, I don’t question your activities. And please lower your voice; I’m trying to get in an afternoon nap around here.
Unfortunately the federal government, however, can question my activities.
When I returned home from my trip and was able to read OPM’s letter with my own eyes, I saw for the first time that they made reference to an “Earnings Report” which I had ostensibly returned to their office earlier this year. This is what must have conclusively proved that I had additional income to justify the ending my annuity supplement.
Wait, come again? Earnings Report? Um, no. I hadn’t returned any earnings report. I do recall not sending a form back to them a couple of months back when they inquired about my income for the previous year. Their instructions were to take no action if I either had no income, or if any income earned was under the above-mentioned cap. So I followed that instruction and round-filed the form.
Ah-ha. So that form was the earnings report! The same one I didn’t have to send back to them, but strangely enough is also the one they also received back from me. Obviously a small error made by someone at OPM’s Beijing office.
To take mercy on you, dear readers, I’ll take you to the end of this sordid story. Three days, three phone calls, and two e-mails later, I learned that this was all a “computer glitch” on the part of OPM. My supplement hasn’t in fact been taken away from me. A look at my annuity for next month shows that it is now thankfully restored. An email response I later received from them even had a sentence which reads, “We apologize for any hardships this error may have caused you.” A friend suggested that I savor this moment, given how rare it is to receive an actual apology from the federal government (Hi, E.).
The irony in all of this is that tomorrow, in the same week that I retired from my career two years before, I will be starting a part-time job as a reference librarian at a nearby law library. In the midst of one shoe dropping, a door opened.
I’ll be working eight hours a week. Thankfully not enough to trigger an earnings report next year, but also low enough to preserve those naps and quality time moments with Della and Perry. I’ll even now have the cash to be a sport and pay for your drink should I bump into you at our local watering hole.
Until next time…
¹ In all likelihood I will not start Social Security at age 62, opting instead to wait until my full retirement age at 66. When the supplement ends I will have other savings at my disposal from which to begin taking distributions, since I will be beyond the age 59 1/2 tax penalty period.