The Trump administration’s plan to slim future federal pension benefits, big-time, has electrified feds. They are nervous, whether they are decades away from retiring or have been retired for years. Feds and retirees (or their survivors, in both plans) have reason to be anxious:
Those under the old Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) are worried. They represent the majority of current retirees, but only a small percentage of the still-on-the-job workforce.
Even more worried — as in gobsmacked — are the largest group of active-duty feds and postal employees who are under the Federal Employees Retirement System, which covers most people hired since the mid-1980s.
FERS was set up to replace the more expensive CSRS program, and to take into account that only about one-third of the people who work for the government actually retire from it. FERS replaced the more generous CSRS pension/annuity benefit, but added Social Security and a generous 401k package, in which employees who contribute at least 5 percent of their own money get a 5 percent match (the equivalent of a tax-deferred pay raise) to their 401k. FERS is more portable than the CSRS program because of the Social Security and Thrift Savings Plan components.
At the time FERS replaced CSRS, many people suspected/feared that eventually, Congress would eliminate the CSRS program, forcing workers into the less costly (to the government) FERS plan. But that didn’t happen, and now the number of people getting the more generous CSRS annuity is probably too small to make them a target. But both groups would be hit under the Trump budget if —and it is a big if— Congress goes along.
Some feds worry that if COLAs are reduced or eliminated, the next step will be to eliminate the retirement component of FERS for people hired in the future. Others worry that the matching government contribution to FERS employees’ TSP plans may be on some future hit list. Meantime, here’s a comment from a long-retired postal worker:
“Nice article about grampa and pension plans. Like most CSRS retirees, I follow pension-related news using the postalnews.com website. I am a retired (2009) mailman. I think it’s important to note in any conversation about federal retirements is the WEP/GPO. Mailmen do not pay into Social Security and anything they earn is greatly reduced or eliminated, including spousal survivor’s benefits. I know you know this. So, my take-home pension of $2,333, plus $154 SSI is not going to buy me that house on the Riviera. I feel it’s comparable to someone with 30 years substantial earnings for SSI, plus a 401k. I think most of the public assumes we get full SSI benefits and are surprised when I explain to them that we don’t.
I consider the 401k system the biggest scam of the 20th century. I remember when it first started, companies would say that they would match employee savings because of the money they saved by not paying out a pension. Time and time again, my children have seen an end to employee matching, especially when the company is on the skids.
I also remember how some of my ‘friends’ looked down at me for remaining a mailman. It was that whole ‘public-sector’ snobbery. They were riding high with their expense accounts, medical benefits, and decent pensions. Now that that has been yanked out from under them, I hear a lot of ‘pension envy’ out there. ‘Well that’s not fair, you shouldn’t have that’ type of talk. Misery loves company.
And the whole COLA thing. Another sham. The only thing that hasn’t gone up in my budget is my income in the last five years, for the most part. And they want to reduce it by another 0.5 percent. To be fair, Obama proposed using a different formula, which would have reduced it anyway.
So, here I am knocking on the door of 64 with an artificial hip and knee, contemplating going back to work. All because of Trump and the Republican party. And 40 percent of union members vote Republican. It used to drive me nuts when I was a steward to hear that. I remember being accused of violating the Hatch Act. Hell, my bosses probably couldn’t even spell it. I still chuckle over that.
At times I get bitter, frustrated, angry, but the hell with that.
I’ll just go back to work. And to quote Alec Baldwin in ‘The Departed’: ‘The world needs more bartenders.'”