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WV Legislative Interims: Committee on Pensions and Retirement hears testimony on bonus pay

By Matt Young, WV Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Benefit enhancements and service transfers were on the agenda this week, during the final meeting of January Interims for the Joint Committee on Pensions and Retirement.

For the third time in as many meetings, committee members heard testimony regarding proposed legislation, which, if enacted, would provide a “bonus payment equal to $1,500” to eligible individuals currently enrolled in either the Public Employees, or Teachers Retirement Systems (PERS, TRS).

As explained by Committee Counsel Phillip Childs, “In order to qualify for [the bonus payment], the annuitant would have to be age 70 by July 1, 2023, have 20-years of total service by that date, and currently make less than $1,000 per month in their current annuity.” 

Childs added that the secondary function of the proposed bill, referred to as a “bump up,” would also increase monthly annuity payments to $1,000 for those same individuals – providing they have 25-years of service by July 1, 2023. 

Jeffrey Fleck, executive director of the Consolidated Public Retirement Board, provided some financial clarification about the bill, saying, “It is not revenue-neutral.”

“For PERS and TRS combined it would be $7.2 million to give the one-time $1,500 payment,” Fleck said, noting that a total of 5,173 retirees and beneficiaries would be eligible. “The more expensive part of this bill is the part that does a bump up to the permanent $1,000.”

According to Fleck, the cost of the “bump up” would be just over $19 million, adding, “That takes the cost for the total bill up to almost $27 million.”

The proposed bill will now progress to the Committee on Government and Finance. 

Austin McVey, director of Social Security with the W.Va. State Auditor’s Office, was next before the committee, and provided an update regarding the plan to extend Social Security benefits to members of  the Municipal Police Officers and Firefighters Retirement System (MPOFRS).

“To give a little clarity, things are starting to fall in line and the wheel is rolling on this,” McVey said, alluding to the slowness by which the plan has moved thus far. “We’re starting to get traction, and will hopefully be able to get these police and firefighters to start paying into Social Security if they choose to.” 

McVey cited minor administrative mistakes and unexplained delays on the part of the federal Social Security Administration as the primary factors behind the slowing of the process. However, according to McVey, those factors have been addressed and the process is moving ahead more rapidly now. 

“[Soon] (we’ll be) able to start having our voting processes begin to see if each department wants to be covered under Social Security,” McVey added. “With the help of some people in the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) and the Professional Firefighters of W.Va., we have begun an outreach to all of the departments that are going to be eligible to vote.”

At the conclusion of McVey’s presentation, Fleck appeared before the committee once more – this time delivering an update on the proposed transfer of service regarding police officers and firefighters currently enrolled within the PERS system. 

“We have the current number of police and firefighters that are in PERS – that is 331,” Fleck said. “And there is 50-some employers that have their police and firefighters in the PERS system, that could potentially elect to transfer into the Municipal Police and Fire (MPOFRS) plan.”

Fleck added that “We will have additional information once session begins.” Though not yet scheduled, the proposed transfer of service will next be discussed before the Joint Committee on Government and Finance. 

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