According to The Senior Citizens League, the sleight of hand behind it is a formula for calculating the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) that has robbed seniors of 33% of their buying power since 2010.
Since then, annual COLA increases have averaged a meager 1.375%. That means the average recipient has received a COLA increase of less than $20 a month. For many, the con job is even more vexing because much of that gain is taken back with increases in Medicare premiums.
These annual COLA adjustments are based by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on a formula that uses the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers — a lengthy descriptor that’s usually abbreviated as CPI-W. Therein lies the problem — this index does not accurately reflect the rising costs that most affect seniors — such as medical care and drugs, food/staples and rent. Even the most modest estimates suggest these costs are increasing at a rate of somewhere between 5% and 10% annually.
About 1,000 current and retired Ohio educators skeptical of the true financial shape of their $90 billion state pension fund are preparing to sue to force greater cooperation with a $75,000 self-funded investigation of its books.
The forensics audit, financed through money raised from members, is being undertaken by pension investment expert Ted Siedle — a former Securities Exchange Commission attorney, financial forensics investigator, and co-author of the book “Who Stole My Pension?”
The public records lawsuit will ask the Ohio Supreme Court to force the State Teachers Retirement System, serving some 500,000 active, inactive, and retired members, to release information that investment firms have claimed is proprietary or a trade secret.
A plan proposed by Vermont lawmakers to bolster the state’s pension systems, which are facing nearly $3 billion in unfunded liabilities, has been resoundingly panned by state teachers and public employees who said they felt abandoned and betrayed.
According to a draft of the pension reform plan released by the state’s House lawmakers, teachers and state employees would be required to pay more in contributions to the fund, stay in the workforce longer, and get less in monthly benefits when they retire. Additionally, cost of living adjustments (COLAs) would apply only to the first $24,000 of the retirement benefit, and to be vested in the program, employees would have to work twice as long—a minimum of 10 years from the current five.
Chicago households are on the hook for a combined $63,000 in Chicago-only debt, based on Moody’s calculations. It’s why the city and the school district have been junk rated for years.
Pritzker’s COLA increase runs against what most of Illinois’ political elite already know – COLA cuts are necessary and inevitable at all levels of government. As Greg Hinz said in his review of Wirepoints’ Pension Solutions, “…that juicy perk over time has amounted to megabillions that state government just doesn’t have.”
The COLA hike will cause more financial headaches for Chicago. Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the COLA increase will cost the city an additional $18 to $30 million a year in pension costs. In all, the perk will force taxpayers to pay an additional $850 million over time.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation that benefits retired Chicago firefighters, rejecting city warnings adding to its already burdensome pension tab could damage ratings and drive up taxes.
The added cost to bring cost-of-living adjustments for all firefighters in tier one up to a simple 3% annual increase despite their birth date amounts to $18 million to $30 million annually and up to $823 million in full by 2055 when the fund is slated to reach a 90% funded ratio.
Pending legislation to do the same for the police fund carries a steeper price tag of up to $90 million annually and $2.6 billion through 2055.
HB 2451 addresses disparate pension benefits among Chicago firefighters. Currently, employees eligible for a pension in the Firemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago (FABF) who were born after January 1, 1966 are granted a 1.5 percent COLA. However, firefighters who may have started on the force the same day, may unfairly receive different benefits based on their dates of birth. The legislation addresses this discrepancy by adjusting the COLA for these firefighters from 1.5 percent to 3 percent.
The legislation eliminates the 30 percent cap on cumulative COLA adjustments. For employees eligible for a 1.5 percent COLA, they would have hit the cap at 20 years. The reforms made in this legislation provides firefighters the ability to plan for themselves and their families.
When it comes to politics and government, Chicago is a force unto itself. Its strengths and weaknesses are, mostly, of its own making.
But the city was recently victimized by the General Assembly, and it’s important for the people of Illinois to know why. What happened speaks to a serious problem — a Legislature seemingly untethered to reality.
Unfortunately, state legislators voted during the recent lame-duck session to increase retirement benefits for 2,200 Chicago firefighters.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, as a newspaper headline put it, objected “strenuously” to the Legislature’s action.
She correctly described it as a “massive unfunded mandate to the taxpayers of Chicago at a time when there are no funds to cover this new obligation.”
The only remaining provider of inflation-protected annuities in the United States is the federal government through Social Security. Retirees today can buy more of this income by waiting until age 70 to claim Social Security, thereby boosting their inflation-protected income by 30% over their full retirement age.
For healthy, higher-income retirees who have seen the largest improvements in longevity in recent decades, this increase in lifetime inflation-protected income appears to be a bargain.