Questions arise about future of public retirees' 13th check - - Jackson, MS

Questions arise about future of public retirees' 13th check

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT

Public retirees get a cost of living adjustment added to their benefits every year. It's known as the 13th check. And there's talk on social media that it could be in jeopardy next session.

It's nearly a month till lawmakers fill these hallways again but the chatter is already starting up.

"I think there's a tendency that people forget that the wall and halls of the Capitol talk and seem to leak out," said Representative Tom Miles.

"Rumors are about 90 percent of the way things happen here at the Capitol and they're always based on something that was heard," added Representative Jay Hughes.

Representatives Tom Miles and Jay Hughes have posted concerns over a rumor that there might be a push next year to do away with the "COLA" (13th check) for retirees during the coming session.

"We made a commitment to our state employees," said Miles. "We should honor that commitment. We shouldn't back up on it."

Representative Jeff Smith tried to calm retirees fears via Facebook. He made note that the "COLA" check isn't a real cost of living increase, saying that after the first three years it's an automatic 3% increase. He says if there's every going to be a change, it may well be that. Instead of squashing rumors, it fired some up even more.

"It doesn't matter what it's called," noted Hughes. "The fact is that employees worked their career at the state for that promise. What I read is this is the foundation for taking away that promise."

Still, it wouldn't be the first time the COLA check has been brought into question. And that's why the president of the Mississippi Alliance for Public Employees Brenda Scott is holding her breath for the session and asking retirees to pay attention.

"People depend on that pension," Scott explained. "They depend on that 13th check. Just to say we're not going to touch your retirement. Now it's time to follow that."

PERS Executive Director Pat Robertson sent the follow information:

“What is often referred to as the 13th check is not a bonus, but, in reality, is simply a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) added to a retirement benefit to account for effects of inflation. COLAs help ensure that retiree purchasing power remains relatively the same no matter how long a retiree may live and how quickly prices might rise.

A 13th check was first authorized by the Mississippi Legislature in 1966 as an additional check in December; however, Miss. Code Ann. § 25-11-112 (Rev. 2006) was amended in 1999 to provide for the automatic 3 percent annual benefit adjustment that is used to calculate COLA amounts. Additionally, since 1994, retirees may receive the COLA in either monthly payments or in the lump sum form of a 13th check paid in December. 

All PERS retirees and beneficiaries who have been receiving benefit payments for at least one full fiscal year (July 1 through June 30) are eligible to receive a COLA. The COLA is equal to 3 percent of a retiree’s annual base benefit for each full fiscal year of retirement prior to the year in which he or she reaches age 55 (for those hired prior to July 1, 2011) or 60 (for those hired July 1, 2011, and after), plus 3 percent compounded for each fiscal year thereafter, beginning with the fiscal year in which he or she turns age 55 (for those hired prior to July 1, 2011) or 60 (for those hired July 1, 2011, and after). While inflation may have been relatively modest in the last several years, the historical average is 3 percent (hence the 3 percent COLA).

Occasionally, rumors circulate that the COLA will be eliminated or adjusted. While PERS cannot predict the actions of the Legislature—the only governing body with the authority to change retirement benefits—I feel confident that providing a COLA is recognized as being important to the retirement security of retirees.”

– Pat Robertson, PERS executive director  

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