A bill introduced in the Senate Wednesday would ensure that federal retirees receive equal inflation boosts to their retirement benefits.
Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., put forward draft legislation that ensures annual cost-of-living adjustments on Social Security benefits are the same, regardless of which of the two retirement systems a government worker paid into.
This year, workers who fall into the Federal Employees Retirement System, those hired in or after 1984, will receive a smaller COLA than those who are covered by the Civil Service Retirement System. For 2024, that means CSRS retirees get 3.2% while FERS gets 2.2%.
That’s because of the way these increases are calculated; when consumer prices increase between 2% and 3%, the FERS COLA i at 2%. When prices change above 3%, FERS retirees get one percentage point less.
That difference may mean only $18 dollars a month, but that can add up over time, especially in years of high inflation consistently keeping FERS retirees behind, according to the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union.
“Already, someone who retired under FERS two years ago with an average benefit would have seen their pension fall $440 behind what their yearly benefit should be if it kept up with inflation,” the union said in a statement last month.
Padilla reintroduced the Equal COLA Act on Nov. 1 as a companion bill to the one led by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. The House version has been reintroduced several times in recent sessions but has not been passed.
Each time, however, the bill has garnered broad support from federal unions and employee advocacy groups who have said that inflation impacts a retiree’s bottom line more significantly because they’re on a fixed income.
“This may not seem like a lot at first glance, but when the reduction compounds year after year, it may cost an average FERS retiree tens of thousands of dollars over the course of their retirement—and even more for some,” said William Shackelford, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, in a February statement.
Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., cosponsor Padilla’s bill.
The House companion bill has 40 cosponsors, mostly Democrats.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.