In June, nearly four years after her retirement, Cindy Calabrese received notice that her retirement benefits had been paid out too generously. Not only that, but the San Luis Obispo woman was told she would have to start paying back the money within three months.
Calabrese owes CalPERS, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which manages the retirement of 1.5 million public employees in California, a sum equal to seven months of benefits. She was told she could choose to forgo benefits for that amount of time to pay off her debt completely, according to a letter from CalPERS. In all, it will total nearly $7,000. If she pays it back over four years, it will cost about one third of her monthly income. But she doesn’t think she should have to pay it back at all.
“In the spirit of compromise,” she said, “I would agree to the adjusted level of income, but I don’t believe I should be penalized for their mistake.”
The discrepancy was found when CalPERS ran an internal audit. According to CalPERS spokesman Ed Fong, an accounting error was discovered that will affect about 200 people statewide, two of whom were San Luis Obispo city employees. As many as 10 retirees countywide will be affected.
This is the second time CalPERS has changed her benefit level due to an error, Calbrese said.
“How’s a state employee supposed to confidently retire?” she asked. “How do I know that they’re not going to come to me in another four years, saying they made another mistake?”
In the days after Calbrese found out, she contacted Sen. Abel Maldonado—who called CalPERS on her behalf, she said. Calbrese also wrote to U.S. Rep. Lois Capps and Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee.
Now, Calbrese said, she may have to go back to work to pay CalPERS back.
“I feel let down,” she said “I worked 30 years for this. The whole time I was putting money aside for this. And now I find out there was a mistake.
“They say it’s legal,” Calbrese went on, “But it’s not right.”