By Associated Press - Saturday, April 17, 2021

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia’s state workers participating in the Employees Retirement System will get bonuses of up to $1,800 this year, but will once again not get permanent increases in their pensions.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Employers Retirement System board voted Thursday to give 54,000 retired workers 3% bonus checks, capped at $1,800 for people with pensions at or above $30,000 a year.

Retirees have received similar bonuses in recent years. The checks generally go out in January and July.



Pensions average about $26,400 a year for employees getting checks, said Jim Potvin, executive director of the Employees Retirement System,

Leaders of the Georgia State Retirees Association would prefer that retirees get a permanent cost of living increase. That wouldn’t require a board vote each year, and future increases would compound upon each other.

“We cannot help but to be disappointed that the board chose once again to not grant a full cost-of-living adjustment when conditions so favor it,” said association President Jim Sommerville, who said retired employees are “thankful” for the bonus.

The pension fund has about $16.2 billion in assets with stock market gains pushing it up more than 20% since July 1.

“Including the rising cost of medical services as individuals age, retirees’ cost of living has increased by upward of 30% since we last received a COLA in 2009,” Sommerville said. “More than half of almost 54,000 ERS retirees continue to receive less than $22,000 annually. Many retirees are now struggling to keep pace with rising expenses.”

Retired teachers get a guaranteed 3% yearly cost of living increase, unlike retired state employees. That means teachers’ pensions have increased faster than inflation in most recent years, while employees pensions have not increased at all.

For decades, Georgia granted cost-of-living increases to state retirees. The situation for retired employees changed in the late 2000s, when concerns were raised that the system faced a shortfall being strained by poor investment returns.

Lawmakers changed the rules so that new employees received a lower pension and a 401(k)-type retirement plan. Most younger employees don’t stay long enough to qualify for full benefits.

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