Retirement plan cuts: Round 26 coming up

Worried about the fate of your Federal Employees Retirement System or Civil Service Retirement System plans? Afraid congressional numbers crunchers will make you pay much more for a retirement package, stripped of inflation protection, that will leave you worse off each year?

Is your planned retirement date on hold while you wait to see if the White House and Congress will eliminate any inflation protection for current or future FERS retirees? Have you run the numbers as to what you would lose in retirement if the majority-millionaire House and Senate reduce your starting annuity and eliminate the substantial “gap” payment that now goes to feds forced because of their jobs to retire early?

If you are nervous in the civil service, welcome to the club. If you are a second- or even third-generation government worker now you know how your parents and grandparents felt.

Threats to the federal retirement package have been around a long time. They have been serious each time. In the past both parties took shots at federal pay and pensions. In recent years Republicans have led the charge which is why many feds (regardless of their personal politics) were happy to see Democrats win back the House last year.

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For more than 30 years groups representing workers, managers, executives and retired feds and postal workers have fought a successful series of skirmishes to protect the retirement package. And while they’ve been successful up to now, that is no guarantee that one day forces focused on Uncle Sam’s pension package won’t score a hit. They came very close, making major cuts to CSRS and FERS in the last couple of years. And it’s a decades-long fight as Congress looks for long range, as in paper cuts in spending over five, 10 and even 15 periods. While it is an exercise in kicking the can down the road, the problem for you dear government worker or retiree is that it’s your can they are kicking! Consider column from November 1993, when I did “The Federal Diary” for The Washington Post, with the headline “Retirement plans at risk”:

“Government workers who already have sacrificed a 2.2% pay raise to the Deity of Deficit Reduction have a few more bullets to dodge next week. As they said during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, ‘This is not a drill.’ If budget cuts hit their targets, they will alter the federal pension program.”

The brilliant column went on to say many people could wind up working much longer than they expected. And just about everyone hired after 1983, which is nearly everyone, would wind up working longer and getting less in retirement.

The column also has many references to President Bill Clinton proposing a pay freeze and asking Congress not to give retirees a cost of living adjustment in 1994-1995. But you get the idea. These threats, especially if somebody is going after a long-promised benefit you helped pay for, are not new. And like the advice financial planners give their customers, past performance is no guarantee of what’s ahead.

If you belong to any of these organizations — National Active and Retired Federal Employees, the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union, the American Postal Workers Union, National Association of Letter Carriers, Professional Managers Association, Senior Executives Association or National Air Traffic Controllers Association — you are already in the fight. Whatever you give them in dues or political action committee donations is going to protect your No. 1 perk: The retirement package.

If you don’t know what any of those organizations, and their acronyms are, you lose in more ways than one. And maybe you should find out, then pick the one that fits and actually join it? What have you got to lose if you don’t join the fight? That’s a no brainer!

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

The International Segway Polo Association, which bills itself as “The Sport of Equals,” has members in the U.S., U.K., German, Austria, New Zealand, Sweden, Barbados, Lebanon, Spain and the Netherlands. It holds a world championship each year.

Source: ISPA

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