Retired public employees in Wyoming have not received a cost of living adjustment (COLA) in over a decade. COLAs are necessary to adjust for inflation. The price of almost everything, including food, medicine, and rent, tends to increase over time. If pension benefit payments don’t increase as well, their purchasing power is gradually eroded over time. Last week, a bill to grant a COLA to retired Wyoming public employees was introduced and it is rapidly moving through the legislative process.
Retired public employees in Wyoming last received a COLA in 2008. Due to the erosion of purchasing power, the average retired public employee is able to buy $248 less with their retirement benefit today. And since the average annual pension is $20,316, this creates real challenges for retirees living on fixed incomes.
House Bill 314 was introduced last week with Speaker of the House Steve Harshman as the primary sponsor. HB314 would grant two additional benefit checks, one in July 2019 and the other in July 2020. This is commonly known as a “13th check” because it comes in addition to the regular monthly pension checks. The amount of the additional benefit would vary for each retiree depending on the amount of their current benefit and the number of years since retirement. The Wyoming Retirement System estimates the average additional benefit would be $183.
House Bill 314 was introduced on Tuesday, January 29. It received a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, January 31. It passed out of committee on a 5-2 vote and has been sent to the House floor. The bill must receive three readings and a final vote before the end of the day on Wednesday, February 6. Public employees, retirees, and their allies are hopeful that with the speaker’s support, the bill will pass the House this week. If the bill is passed by the House, then the action will shift to the state Senate, where there will be a challenging effort to get it passed.
Retired public employees in Wyoming need this COLA to strengthen their retirement security and keep them out of poverty, but this is also good for the state. The National Institute on Retirement Security estimates that pension spending in Wyoming generated $792 million in economic activity in 2016. It also generated $48.7 million in state and local tax revenue. This is far more than the $11 million cost of awarding the COLAs in HB 314. When the economic security of retirees is strengthened, everyone benefits.
If you are a Wyoming resident, please contact your legislators today and urge them to support House Bill 314! There is no time to waste.