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Wave Of Temporary Retirements Hits South Carolina In Advance Of New Law

44-year old Randy Scott is the police chief in Columbia, South Carolina, and he’s retiring tomorrow, but not for long. In two weeks, he hopes to take a new job as Columbia’s police chief—again. Scott is retiring temporarily, so he can start receiving his pension, while also receiving his salary.

Megan Lightle at the South Carolina Benefit Authority says this is pretty common amongst public employees. She uses a hypothetical example to explain how it works.

“Let’s just say it’s me,” Lightle says. “I want my employer to hire me back, but I do have to take a fifteen day break. If they hire me back and I return to work, I can earn my salary with my employer and receive my full retirement benefit without any limitations whatsoever.”

This is all legal, according to Lightle, as long as the employer does not guarantee they will hire back the retiring person. But on Wednesday, a change goes into effect to stop this kind of double-dipping. With a few exceptions, if a retiree goes back to and earns more than $10,000, his or her pension freezes for the year. Lightle says retirement applications have nearly tripled, and she attributes that to the changing law.

“From December 1st through today, we have added more than 1,600 annuity applications to our system,” Lightle says. “Last year, this time, it was 625.”

The retiring police chief, Scott, told WLTX TV that he, and a lot of other public safety officials feel their hands have been forced by the change, and they have no choice but to retire right now or lose a lot of money.

“I understand that they had to do something for the retirement system,” Scott says. “But, as a 44 year old man, I’m very saddened that I’m sitting here talking about retirement.”

While Scott spends the next two weeks retired, deputy police chief Ruben Santiago will take over temporarily. Two months ago, Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins retired for 15 days.