This past legislative session, House Bill 314, which was introduced by Speaker of the House Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, and several co-sponsors, would have provided retired public employees with their first inflation adjustment in 12 years.
As the speaker and many other lawmakers understand, legislation like this is critical as the cost of food, medicine and housing have increased dramatically in the last 12 years, and many retired public employees are struggling to keep up. Unfortunately, the Legislature failed to pass HB 314, and retired public employees were forced to go yet another year without any kind of adjustment.
Across Wyoming, retired public employees are the backbones of their communities. On average, they receive a modest pension of $19,921 per year. It’s important to remember that this is a benefit they earned. They paid into the retirement system throughout their careers, and this income not only keeps them afloat, it also supports local businesses, communities and families.
As I speak to retired teachers, firefighters and other public employees, I hear a common, unfortunate theme: after more than a decade without an inflation adjustment, many of them are struggling to keep up with rising costs. Some are even slipping closer and closer to poverty.
According to the Wyoming Retirement System, public employee retirees have lost almost 21% of their purchasing power (about $250 per month on average) since their last inflation adjustment. This reduced benefit not only hurts retirees, it also puts a strain on many of their families, while reducing spending in their communities.
In Wyoming, pensions are a huge part of our local economies. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, pension plan benefits support 5,103 jobs in Wyoming, supporting nearly $206.8 million in income for those employees. Pension benefit spending also supports $792.3 million in total economic output and $367.3 million in direct economic impact in our state. This is hundreds of millions of dollars going right back into our communities by way of retiree spending.
An inflation adjustment would not only boost retiree spending, but more importantly, it would also ensure retired public employees can live with dignity.
The writing is on the wall: retired public employees need an inflation adjustment. We urge the Wyoming Legislature to pass an increase for retirees in the upcoming 2020 session. After 12 years of gradually rising costs for everything, including medicine, groceries, transportation and housing, retired public employees need their benefits adjusted to keep up with the times. Without this legislation, retirees will increasingly have to rely on their families, communities and the social safety net to get by – if they’re lucky enough to have those support systems.
We can do better. We owe it to our retired firefighters, police officers, teachers and all other public employees to do right by them in retirement. They dedicated their careers to serving our communities, and many of them are retired due to injuries sustained in their service. Now it’s up to us, and to the Legislature, to ensure they can live with dignity and security in their retirement.