A message from our President about COVID-19

March 25, 2020
Frank Spencer

Dear members, beneficiaries, congregations, and employers,

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Particularly in times of stress, pain, and deprivation, our confidence in God's saving love never waivers, and it is a source of strength to call on the name of the one in whom all things are new, a recreation for the reconciling of the world. Today, we find ourselves where new patterns and processes merge with age-old truth and constancy. This is true in our faith; God does not change and is with us in all time and space. God's love does not change, and our hope in Christ's promise of eternal life is just as real as it was before anyone had heard the words COVID-19.

The Board of Pensions is experiencing both a new reality and constancy, just as you are. The new reality means that all of us are working from home. Fortunately, as is the Board's tradition, we were well prepared. Board employees have laptops and internet access. We have practiced this very kind of continuity plan many times. Although no one is physically at 2000 Market Street, you will find that our call center is fully functional, with our cloud-based technology routing both emails and voice calls to a virtual team of service representatives that has never missed a minute of operations. Of greater importance, over 20,000 monthly pension deposits are arriving as always in the accounts of our retirees, and every medical claim that is supporting the health of our members is being processed and paid.

The Board's financial resources are sound. The current economic disruption is profound, and our expectation is that things will get significantly worse before any upturn in the financial markets can be expected. While COVID-19 is new, bear markets are not. The Board has lived through these shocks before, most recently in the 2008 global financial crisis and, before that, during the dot-com bust at the end of the 1990s. Our portfolio is structured to guard against such shocks. We have sufficient liquidity to ensure that benefits payments continue uninterrupted. We have a diversified portfolio, which lessens total declines, even as the stock market suffers historic losses. Our long-term perspective has prepared us to ride out the downturns so that we, likewise, benefit from the upturns that eventually follow.

All this is to say that the Board will meet the promises made to each and every member and beneficiary! In addition, we know that some of our members may encounter extraordinary financial hardships during these uncertain times. Our assistance programs are there to help, and we encourage you to contact the Board directly, at 800-773-7752 (800-PRESPLAN). We will answer your call, just as we have every other day.

We know that congregations and our many other employers are likewise under financial pressure. Keeping your staff employed and providing their benefits is a priority for all of us. To that end, the Board urges employers to avoid layoffs, using furloughs instead where necessary. For any employee on furlough, the employer may elect to continue to provide benefits, as the Board is waiving the 20-hour-per-week requirement for benefits eligibility.

Ensuring that small congregations can maintain pastoral leadership is especially important during this time of national distress. For those congregations that pay dues to the Board for one pastor under the required Pastor's Participation structure, the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors will be considering a provision for dues relief at its meeting April 3. In the meantime, any congregation unable to pay current dues should call our Employer Services team to discuss the situation.

Healthcare does not stop with physical health. These are trying times emotionally and psychologically. Isolation in some cases and overwhelming closeness in others can strain us to a breaking point. The Board offers support through our Employee Assistance Program, which can be reached by calling 866-640-2772 or logging in to the Cigna website. (One-time registration is required; use pcusa for Employee's Employer ID.) This service is available to anyone in a member's household.

We have taken these steps to ensure that as many people as possible retain access to benefits during this health crisis. And yet circumstances are varied, and these steps alone may not meet every need in every instance. That is why we urge congregations and employers to contact us. The Board is the means through which we extend care to each other. We are here to serve you. We are eager to take your call and extend to you God's love in the best way we can.

I close with the blessing that has always given me great personal comfort. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May God's face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May God's countenance be lifted to you and give you peace.

Yours in Christ Jesus,

The Reverend Frank Clark Spencer
The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)