State pensioners get cost-of-living boost

About 72,000 retired Washington public employees and teachers will receive a cost-of-living adjustment in their pensions as a result of new state legislation.

Senate Bill 6340, approved by the Legislature and signed into law March 21 by Governor Jay Inslee, gives retirees in Plan 1 of the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) or the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) a one-time, 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) effective July 1.

The average yearly benefit for a retired public employee in Plan 1 is approximately $24,576; for a retired teacher, it’s about $26,136. Retirees with benefits at those levels will see an increase of about $31 to $33 per month, officials said, while increases for retirees with above-average benefit levels are capped at $62.50 per month.

“Many of these public employees and teachers have been retired since the 1980s, but their benefits have been frozen, even as the cost of living has gone up,” said state Sen. Steve Conway, a Tacoma Democrat who sponsored SB 6340. “We shouldn’t leave behind these people who dedicated decades of their lives to serving our state and our children.”

Unlike other state retirement plans, Plan 1 of PERS and TRS, which stopped enrolling new participants in October 1977, provides no cost-of-living increase. In recent years, retirees on the plans saw their purchasing power decrease while healthcare costs increased, Conway said.