People working or retired under the Federal Employees Retirement System could taste their last diet cost of living adjustment next year if legislation proposed last week by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) is reintroduced in the new Congress. Democrats will control the House and Republicans the Senate.
Connolly’s bill would give FERS retirees the same inflation-triggered COLAs as those retired under the Civil Service Retirement System.
Under the current system, CSRS retirees will get a COLA worth 2.8 percent while FERS retirees, who start out with less generous annuities, will get 2 percent.
The two primary federal retirement systems, CSRS and FERS, have been under attack for several years, primarily because a group of House Republicans wanted to make the FERS program less costly to taxpayers and less beneficial to the people who retire under it. That would give feds who retire under the FERS retirement program the same inflation protection as persons who retire under the CSRS system; FERS replaced CSRS in the mid-1980s.
Senate Republicans have shown little to no hostility to the civil service in recent years. In fact the Senate pushed for and approved a 2019 pay raise which the House is still considering.
Regardless of their personal politics, many feds were probably glad to see Democrats take back the House after the midterm elections. The hope is that Democrats, who got heavy and almost exclusive support from federal and postal unions, will block future efforts to gut the FERS program.
Past proposals included increasing FERS contributions by 6 percent, meaning a 6 percent reduction in take-home pay. Other proposals were to eliminate any inflation protection for FERS retirees and do away with Social Security gap payments for feds who retire before becoming eligible for the assistance.
Congressional Democrats were often either ineffective or indifferent in championing pro-fed causes during the Obama administration. Retirees suffered three years without COLAs because of low inflation, and active duty feds missed out on three years of pay raises. The latter group were also hit by furloughs triggered by the White House sequestration process.
But even as many members of Congress looked the other way, or went after civil service benefits, House members such as Connolly, and Maryland Democrats Elijah Cummings and Steny Hoyer stood up for feds against presidents of both parties. Cummings will likely chair a key committee in the next Congress and Hoyer could be No. 2 in the House Democratic leadership, after the speaker of the House.
Federal unions will certainly press Democrats to remind them of their support in the midterm election. And even if that support is lukewarm, people retired or hoping to retire on a federal annuity should find 2019 and 2020 less nerve-wracking on the job front.