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Letter: No benefit

In the mid 1970s, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana. Upon my return to the United States, I taught in various public schools and currently am employed at Pioneer Valley Regional School. When the law was passed allowing former Peace Corps volunteers to purchase up to three years of creditable time toward retirement, I looked forward to the time when I would be able to purchase the two years that I had served.

This year, 10 years after the law was enacted, found me in a position to contact the Massachusetts Teachers Retirement System about the buyback. I correctly estimated the amount of principal that I would need to pay at approximately $7,500. What I did not consider was the amount of interest. According to the 2003 law, the interest owed by former Peace Corps volunteers begins to accrue the date they began their service. This means that, the minute the law was enacted, I owed 28 years’ worth of interest. Now that is 38 years. Even with qualifying for purchasing at the lower interest rate that applied up until April, that amounts to nearly three times the principal. For me to be able to purchase this time would require nearly a $30,000 loan. Not only is the cost of the buyback prohibitive, but I would be nearly 20 years into my retirement before I will have gotten this money back.

This law does not truly benefit former Peace Corps volunteers. It teases us into thinking that we can purchase our time, only to discover that the cost is out of reach for many teachers. Our counterparts in the military are not sidled with the enormous interest burden that we are. Yes, it is true that those in the military always run the risk of putting themselves in harm’s way in defense of our country, but the risks are very real for many Peace Corps volunteers as well. We are isolated and unprotected. Many serve near borders of countries that are hostile to the United States. Even when politically safe, we are stationed in environments where we are exposed to serious illnesses and malnutrition. ...

I urge former Peace Corps volunteers to contact their lawmakers to request action on this law. Changes could benefit more recent volunteers who chose to enter the teaching profession.

ELIZABETH LAREAU WHITCOMB

Northfield

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