Monday, September 10, 2012

Editorial: Doubtful cash-strapped retirees will get any relief

American Press
September 7, 2012

As if the state of Louisiana doesn’t have enough budgetary issues, state lawmakers are taking up the cause of retired teachers and state employees whose pensions are woefully low.
Last week, the Senate Retirement Committee learned that more than 34,000 such retirees in the state of Louisiana have pension benefits below the federal poverty level.

Thirty-nine percent of the retirees in the Teachers’ Retirement System — or more than 26,700 — receive less than $15,130 annually in retirement pay. That puts them below the federal poverty level for a family of two.

Another 7,400 retirees in the Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System — about 18 percent of the 41,142 retirees — also receive less than the federal poverty level for a family of two.

State Sen. Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, called the situation a ‘‘nightmare.’’ Other committee members were equally sympathetic.

LASERS Executive Director Cindy Rougeau told the panel that cost-of-living rasies for retirees in the system lagged behind Social Security increases and inflation between 1999 and 2011.
Guillory said state lawmakers must decide how to fund cost-of-living increases.

‘‘It can’t be an afterthought,’’ he said. ‘‘It has to be something that will kick in pretty automatically.

‘‘And we have to decide how and when COLAs should be granted. Should they be granted to everyone, groups of special identities, charateristics, years of service, age?’’

State Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said there should be a way to determine a retiree’s circumstances. He pointed out that a number of retired teachers worked for 30 years and had no other career. He said other retirees had other retirements they are drawing, like military.

Retired Teachers Association Executive Director said said some retirees have been drawing benefits for more than 30 years. He said there are 30 retired teachers who are at least 100 years old and nearly 1,400 between the ages of 90 and 99.

Retired State Employees’ Association Executive Director Frank Jobert said that the focus should be on those retirees who are earning the least amount in benefits. He also said there should be no deliniation between hazardous duty and non-hazardous duty job retirees.

Here’s the rub: A 1 percent COLA increase for the retirees in the Teachers’ system would cost the state $108 million. A 1 percent increase their counterparts in the LASERS system would cost about $55 million. A 3 percent increase for both systems would cost $500 million.

The sad fact is the state has had trouble balancing its budget over the past two years, meaning the odds aren’t very good that these strapped retirees will get any relief.

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney,Jim Beam, Dennis Spears, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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