Your ministry shares at work: the Conference Benefits Office
From helping newly retired pastors move to their new homes to assisting churches that are trying to negotiate state and federal employment laws, the work of the Upper New York Benefits Office is wide ranging and complex.
The office's work is critically important to both active and retired clergy – and this vital ministry is one of the many supported by ministry share dollars.
"The ministry shares help support the staff needed to appropriately administer eligibility, enrollment and management of the various benefits offered through the Conference," said Benefits Officer Vicki Putney.
For retirees, ministry shares help fund the annual retirement dinner celebrating those pastors completing their active service; and provide assistance even after that by helping offset the cost of moving once pastors finish their last appointment.
Since United Methodist clergy are itinerant, some may not own their own homes before retirement; and those who do have their own homes may find that their last appointment location is a long way away.
"We have a scale of reimbursement to provide some assistance for that last move that's paid for by ministry shares," Putney said.
Retirees, and active clergy, of course, also receive benefits, which are handled by Putney's office.
The world of benefits and administration of those benefits has become a lot more complex in recent years, Putney said. The increasing complexity of the healthcare system and healthcare reform are factors, as are the very stringent and specific state and federal employment laws.
The role of the Benefits Office, Putney said, is to help clergy (and other employees of the Conference) and churches (in their role as employers) navigate these complex waters.
"We are beginning to provide more information to local churches about what it means to be an employer in New York state," Putney said.
That means being an initial contact to help with workers' compensation, W-2 forms, unemployment – even just understanding what employment posters and notices have to be available to employees in the workplace, she said.
"It's really a direct outreach to the churches," Putney said. "Debi Marshall (Conference Human Resources Generalist) is a good resource for them."
Not only are Marshall and the Benefits staff up to date on the current laws and practices, oftentimes through training that is funded by ministry shares, but they are also a friendly and trusted voice for folks dealing with the bureaucracy of healthcare providers, government entities, and insurers.
"We answer their questions," said Putney, adding that while people can find plenty of information out there on the Internet or through other sources, "they don't always trust the information."
Being a trusted guide is "the most satisfying part of the job," Putney said.
"They've met me and talked to me; they see me every year at Annual Conference," she said. "It's always satisfying to me when folks in the local church say 'we're so glad you're there' and 'I trust you to give me the right information or point me in the right direction.'"
An example of that service is coming up in September when the Benefits Office is hosting a series of workshops for retirees on OneExchange. OneExchange is a service that helps those who qualify for Medicare to find the right plan to meet their needs.
"Many folks are already using Medicare, but this is another layer of attention that they have to give to their healthcare choices," Putney said. "It's new for us, and more complicated than it used to be; there's more choice."
The Conference has about 625 retirees (including spouses and surviving spouses). There are about 600 people moving onto the OneExchange program.
“We are going to be able to provide them with a one-on-one counselor for both Medicare and the supplemental plans to Medicare,” Putney said.
The office will also provide other materials such as a DVD recording of the workshop for those who cannot attend in person and mailers and other materials to help explain the program and the enrollment process.
Again, Putney said, the most important factor is trust.
"The retirees have learned to trust me and my level of sincerity for their well-being," she said about the process of embarking on a new program like OneExchange. "I can't always predict if a benefit will be 100 percent satisfactory, but they trust that I have vetted it to the point where I feel comfortable about offering it."