State of Georgia retirees would get bonus checks

Tens of thousands of state government retirees would get 3 percent bonus checks later this year under a proposal being pushed by House leaders.

The bonuses would be the first since the Great Recession. In addition, House leaders plan to urge a state retirement panel to give retired non-certified school employees, such as school bus drivers and cafeteria workers, a 3 percent pension increase.

Neither group has gotten any kind of boost in several years.

Chuck Freedman, a state retiree who lobbies for the Georgia State Retirees Association, said the more than 47,000 former state government workers receiving benefits haven’t seen a cost-of-living increase in eight years.

Retirees received a bonus in fiscal 2010. Freedman said 60 percent of state retirees get a pension of $28,000 or less. At $28,000, the bonus would be $840.

“Given that the governor’s budget (recommendation) had no money in for retired state employees, we feel this is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Freedman said retired state employees would prefer a cost-of-living increase, which would be built into the base of the pension they receive. He noted that the cost of retiree health care has risen significantly since the last pension increase, so retirees have been losing ground.

But the state retirement fund has problems of its own.

A report last year showed that Georgia's pension system for state employees saw a $300 million decline in assets during fiscal 2015 as a volatile stock market and rising payouts to a rapidly retiring workforce affected the fund's bottom line.

Reports released by the Department of Audits and Accounts also showed taxpayers have been pouring an ever-increasing amount of money into the Employees Retirement System.

According to the reports for fiscal 2015, which ended June 30, the government increased its funding of the Employees Retirement System 20.7 percent and employer contributions to the teacher system rose 10.7 percent. Combined, the increases cost the government an additional $227 million last year.

The report said the number of retirees receiving benefits is growing. Officials said those retirees are also living longer. So more state employees are retiring and receiving benefits longer at a time when the state payroll in most agencies is expanding little, if at all.

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