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WV Legislative Interim Report: Committee discussions address retirement, pension payments

By Autumn Shelton, West Virginia Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia Legislature discussions surrounding a possible one-time supplemental payment and a cost-of-living increase for state retirees in the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) and the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) are ongoing as legislators prepare for their upcoming session. 

During December’s interim meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Pensions and Retirement, Committee Attorney Phillip Childs explained that possible legislation, currently titled “Senate Bill X,” would provide a one-time bonus payment, or 13th check, of $1,500 to retirees who have reached age 70 and who have at least 20 years of total service by July 1, 2023. 

He said retirees must also have a monthly annuity of $1,000 or less in order to qualify for this supplemental payment. 

As for the cost-of-living increase, Childs stated that the legislation would also be for those who make less than $1,000 per month. 

“They would be bumped up to $1,000 to qualify for this,” Childs said, adding that retirees must also have reached age 70 by July 1, 2023, and have 25 years of service to qualify. 

Jeff Fleck, executive director of the Consolidated Public Retirement Board, added that the one time supplemental payment would benefit 2,291 payees in PERS at a cost of $3.1 million as well as 2,982 payees in TRS, at a cost of $4.1 million. 

The cost-of-living increase would benefit 437 retirees, 16 disabled retirees and 201 beneficiaries in PERS at a cost of $7.6 million, Fleck continued. It would also benefit 712 service retirees, 61 disabled retirees and 260 beneficiaries in TRS at a cost of $11.7 million. 

The total cost for the entire bill amounts to $26.5 million, Fleck noted. 

In response to questioning, Fleck stated that, at this time, the bill does not stipulate where the money will come from, although there have been discussions about one-time funding. 

“In the past, when there have been increases like this, it typically occurs with an increase in the employer contribution and has to be paid off over a six-year period of time,” Fleck said. “So, it would increase the amount employers would have to pay, but I know with the budget surplus that we currently have that there was contemplation of just paying for it with one time money.” 

In other committee business, Austin McVey, director of Social Security and accounting manager with the State Auditor’s Office, provided an update on West Virginia Code §8-22A-28, which extends Social Security benefits to members of the Municipal Police Officers and Firefighters Retirement System (MPFRS).

McVey explained that a bill modification plan has been signed by Gov. Jim Justice and State Auditor JB McCuskey and sent to the federal Social Security Administration. 

“We are just waiting for them to send back the final copy with their signature and date, and then we will be able to start holding these modifications (meetings) and having these votes to happen,” McVey said, adding that his office is already working with departments throughout the state to discuss the 90-day process of entering the new plan via majority vote.  

Lastly, Fleck said that work is ongoing to determine the cost of allowing municipal police officers and firefighters in both PERS Tier 1 and Tier 2 plans to join the MPFRS. 

Legislation passed in 2016 only allowed for those in Tier 2 plans to move over, Fleck stated. 

“If the decision was made to open it up to both Tier 1 and Tier 2, it would be much more expensive because Tier 1 people have many more years of service that would have to transfer,” Fleck said, noting that all information should be available before the session begins.

The 2023 West Virginia Legislative Session is set to begin on Jan. 11.