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Board stands ready as 2018 hurricane season opens


 The Reverend Dr. José Irizarry, Vice President, Education at the Board of Pensions (right), presents a plaque from the Synod of Boriquen (Puerto Rico) to the Reverend Frank Clark Spencer, Board President. The plaque, on display in the Board’s lobby, features the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) symbol and representations of the Magi. The gift was made in appreciation for the Board’s support of Puerto Rico’s presbyteries and churches during a time of need.

With the opening of hurricane season June 1, the Board of Pensions stands ready to provide information and assistance, as it did during last year's active season.

As some congregations, employers, and members know all too well, three major hurricanes struck within a three-week period in 2017, crippling services in the Gulf Coast states and Puerto Rico. The latter still struggles to recover eight months after Hurricane Maria. Maria, along with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, shuttered businesses, medical facilities, and churches; downed lines of communication; and drove thousands of people from their homes.

The Board and its business partners followed developments closely, keeping Benefits Plan members informed on such matters as obtaining medical care and filling prescriptions. Additionally, the Board issued reminders to members and presbyteries that Emergency Assistance Grants were available through its Assistance Program. The Board awarded 379 grants to meet needs brought on by the 2017 hurricane season.

Recognizing that financial concerns were among the burdens fellow church workers were bearing in Puerto Rico, the Board provided a dues-waiver period for the island's three presbyteries and their churches. Payment arrangements were offered to congregations and employers in other areas where the Board expected that remitting dues would impose an undue hardship.

The Board's business partners stepped up their services. Cigna Behavioral Health offered crisis phone consultations, and provided additional support to members through the plan's Employee Assistance Program, which it administers. OptumRx extended special assistance with filling prescriptions, and Teladoc offered free access to general medical services.

If needed, the Board is prepared to assist churches, employers, and members in the 2018 hurricane season, which runs through November 30. The 2017 season spawned 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and six major hurricanes. It was the seventh most active season in records dating to 1851, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the most active since 2005.