Senate, House Dems discuss need for COLA for PSERS and SERS retirees

No cost-of-living adjustment has been approved for 20 years

HARRISBURG, March 21 – State Senator Katie Muth (D-Chester/Montgomery/Berks), Chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, and House Democratic Policy Committee Chair Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie) today joined Sen. John Kane (D-Chester/Delaware), Rep. Steven Malagari (D-Montgomery) and Rep. Dan Deasy (D-Allegheny) to co-host a joint public hearing on legislation that would provide a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for retirees in the Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System (SERS) and the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS).

The hearing, held earlier today at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, featured two panels of testimony that focused on the increasing cost of living and the struggle of retirees living on state pensions in Pennsylvania.

“It has been more than 20 years since our retirees in either PSERS or SERS have received a COLA – over two decades. These are our teachers, our cafeteria workers, our PennDOT employees that make sure our roads are safe, our human services employees that assist families in need – so many dedicated employees that gave their lives to our communities, our Commonwealth, and our schools who are now having an incredibly difficult time making ends meet on their current pension payments,” Muth said. “It is time that our legislature stands up for public school employees and our state employees – and it is time that PSERS and SERS prioritize the retirement security of their annuitants over high-priced investment managers and risky private equity investments. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate on our legislation to enact a COLA and to allow our retirees to live with dignity.”

Since 2002, retired state workers in SERS and retired school teachers in PSERS have not received a cost of living adjustment to their pensions. According to statistics

provided by the Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees (PASR), inflation has reduced purchasing power by more than 50 percent since the last COLA was enacted.

"We must support our retired teachers and state workers with a secure retirement. The recent policy meeting did a great job allowing us supporters to make a case for a much needed Cost of Living Adjustment. It is unacceptable that retired teachers and state workers have gone over two decades without fiscal protection while living costs have steadily risen,” Kane said. “A secure and well-adjusted retirement plan will not only provide a livable retirement for our current retirees but also attract more people to teaching, nursing, and law enforcement professions. This is exactly what we need."

Senator Kane and Senator Muth have circulated cosponsor memos for legislation that would provide a COLA for beneficiaries of both the PSERS and SERS systems. The two bills would give annuitants their first COLA in over 20 years. Pennsylvania state law requires the General Assembly to enact legislation to grant cost-of living increases to retired teachers and retired state workers. According to testimony submitted by AFSCME Council 13, from 1968 to 2002, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed legislation every 4 or 5 years granting SERS and PSERS annuitants COLAs that typically made up for at least half of the rate of inflation.

“I’m astounded to see that for 20 years – dating back to a time when I was still in college – no movement has taken place on this issue to assist public and state employees, including my own mother who is a retired public school teacher,” Malagari said. “We gathered today to express our support for these seniors, many of whom are struggling with health care needs on a fixed income, and it’s important to note that fixed income’s purchasing power continues to shrink each year.”

Rep. Malagari and Rep. Deasy are working on similar legislation in the House to enact a COLA for PSERS and SERS annuitants.

“My father was a teacher and later became a principal, so I know all of the time and hours teachers and public employees put in for the benefit of children and their community,” Deasy said. “Retirees should not have to choose between filling their prescriptions or purchasing groceries. If we want to do the right thing, we need to dedicate these funds now to avoid an even more dire crisis for our former public servants.”

Participants in today’s hearing included S. Thomas Curry, retired school teacher from Punxsutawney Area School District; Arthur Steinberg, President, PA American Federation of Teachers; Aaron Chapin, Vice President, Pennsylvania State Educators

Association; J. David Henderon, Executive Director, AFSCME Council 13; and Stephen Cantanese, President, SEIU Local 668.

“It’s time for Pennsylvania to grow a spine and support the thousands of seniors who did everything right, dedicated their lives to their communities and paid their fair share, yet now are struggling to make ends meet,” House Majority Policy Committee Chairman Ryan Bizzarro added. “Now in their golden years, former public employees and state workers have not received a cost-of-living adjustment since 2002-03, when a gallon of gasoline cost less than $1.70. It’s more important now than ever to attract and retain teachers, and we cannot expect to attract more teachers without first addressing pensions and salaries.”