Welcome to the latest edition of This Week in Pensions! We have gathered the best stories about pensions and retirement security from the previous week. This is the news you need to know in the fight for a secure retirement.
Correctional officers are exhausted from being overworked. They need better benefits. By Sarah LaFrenz and Micheal Scribner. This op-ed from Keeping the Kansas Promise partners Sarah LaFrenz, president of Kansas Organization of State Employees, and Michael Scribner, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 696, calls for state lawmakers to act on Governor Laura Kelly’s FY2022 budget proposal to move correctional officers from the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) to the Kansas Police & Firemen’s Retirement System (KP&F). The move would impact current and future correctional officers in Correctional KPERS Tier 2 and juvenile correctional officers participating in the Tier 3 cash balance retirement system. While the changes increase employee contributions and the vesting period, it results in an improved and more secure annual benefit in retirement. Acknowledging the importance of offering a secure defined-benefit, the authors note, “This enhanced benefit would provide correctional officers better retirement security, while encouraging retention and bettering recruitment in our correctional facilities. Both are essential steps in solving the many issues our correctional officers face.”
Kentucky starts making push to hire correctional officers by Steve Rogers. Kansas isn’t the only state with a correctional officer shortage. A few states east, Kentucky is struggling to fill 1,038 positions across 13 state prisons. Facing similar recruitment and retention issues, Governor Andy Beshear approved a 10% pay increase for security staff at the prisons in December. But with nearly half of the state’s correctional positions remaining vacant, more competitive retirement benefits could help draw potential employees away from private sector companies who offer comparable annual salaries. State Representative Buddy Wheatley’s House Bill 135 proposes restoring the defined-benefit retirement plan for hazardous duty positions, including correctional institution staff. Hazardous duty employees hired after January 1, 2014 are currently only offered a cash balance plan, essentially a 401(k) with the additional benefit of guaranteeing participants a 4% rate of return after their first year of employment. Representative Wheatley’s proposal has garnered support from Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Kerry Harvey, stating “We must continue to invest in our DOC staff if we are going to provide the public safety needed to create a better and safer Kentucky for generations to come. I call upon my friends in the General Assembly to pass House Bill 135. Without fixing their pension, we will not be able to adequately attract and retain correctional officers and DOC staff.”
Alaska schools have long struggled to hire and keep teachers. The pandemic is making it worse by Sabine Poux. States are having trouble staffing more than just correctional facilities–many states, including Alaska, are struggling to keep teachers on the payroll as well. Since Alaska closed its pension plans to all newly hired public employees in 2006, the state has grappled with teacher shortages, and the trend continues as Covid-19 drags on. Tom Klaameyer, president of NEA-Alaska, says, “Without good retirement, there’s an ‘educational tourists’ problem,” meaning that teachers stay an average of four to five years in their districts, and then leave the state. The Alaska Legislature has a chance to entice more teachers to stay in the state by increasing retirement options with State Representative Grier Hopkins’s House Bill 220, which would allow public employees to choose between a defined-contribution or a defined-benefit retirement plan. In a state like Alaska, where rural districts are often isolated and exacting, retaining public employees is imperative. Klaameyer says, “And in Alaska, just like in all other career fields, it’s a special person that wants to come to Alaska and live here, especially the further you get from the road system . That’s always been a challenge, and it’s an even greater one now.”