June 30, 2023: We had planned to take a brief hiatus from our weekly updates, but there is some very good news to share that cannot wait another week.

By Mass Retirees CEO Shawn Duhamel

Frank Valeri and Tom Bonarrigo Testify at the State House
Frank Valeri and Tom Bonarrigo Testify at the State House

On Monday we received word that the additional 2% FY23 COLA benefit had been full adopted in Hampshire County. It appears that Hampshire reached the 2/3rds threshold of approval from the towns that make up the retirement system a few weeks ago. This means that Hampshire County retirees were paid the additional COLA payment in their May pension check, which was retroactive to July 1, 2022.

Further good news came late Monday night, when Plymouth County Treasurer Tom O’Brien contacted me to say that the retirement system had reached its 2/3rds threshold that evening. Impressively, Plymouth County exceeded the threshold by at least 2 communities and received unanimous approval across the member towns that voted on the benefit.

Plymouth’s success is due to the work of O’Brien, who chairs the county retirement board, his fellow board members, and a handful of local retirees who took on the task of grassroots advocacy. As I mentioned in last week’s message, I’d like to say a special thank you to Middleborough retiree Charlie Armanetti, whose dedication to seeing this benefit adopted for his fellow Plymouth County retirees has been particularly noteworthy.

The common denominator among the 71 retirement systems that have fully adopted the additional 2% benefit is the advocacy of local retirement board members, in coordination with the help Mass Retirees members. Our call to action across our full membership was a huge success!

We are now aware of successful adoption of the added benefit in 71 of the 102 local retirement systems. This is in addition to the automatic adoption of the 5% COLA for the State and Teacher Retirement Systems when the special law was passed within the FY23 budget last July. State and Teacher retirees received their COLA benefit last summer.

However, the benefit was not finalized for retirees of the 102 local retirement systems until last October. At the urging of the Mass Municipal Association, then-Governor Charlie Baker inserted language requiring the approval of local governments (city council / mayor, select board). However, Baker stopped short of requiring the approval of town meetings – an unnecessary step that would have blocked passage of the benefit in most county and town retirement systems.

I should point out that some local retirement systems chose to increase the COLA base in recent months, rather than implement the one-time added benefit. These decisions are most often based on the specific financial and funding status of each retirement system.

This week there were also important developments on the legislative front. On Thursday morning, the Joint Committee on Public Service held a hearing on our COLA proposals. These proposals included a bill increasing the State and Teacher COLA base to $16,000 and a separate proposal creating an additional “senior” or enhanced COLA for career public employees who have been retired 15 or more years and receive pension benefits that are below the system average.

Association President Frank Valeri and Legislative Chairman Tom Bonarrigo testified on the two bills, which also have the support of the Retired Educators Association of Mass. (REAM), and multiple public employee unions.

In July, Frank and I are scheduled to meet with Governor Maura Healey’s senior staff to discuss our COLA proposals and enlist the governor’s support in moving the legislation forward. Our goal is to have a higher COLA base, along with the senior COLA, in place for FY25.

As we have reported in the past, the challenge in increasing the State and Teacher COLA base is the high cost of the benefit – which can easily create well over a billion dollars in new unfunded liabilities.

While we continue to explore new ways to overcome this challenge, we must take a moment to recognize the success we’ve achieved over the past year. Below is the full list of retirement systems that have fully adopted the additional 2% benefit for FY23 (bringing the total COLA increase to 5%, retroactive to July 1, 2022). The local COLA is applied to the applicable COLA base for each retirement system.

5% FY23 COLA Update

Complete Approval

  1. Barnstable Cty
  2. Bristol Cty
  3. Hampden Cty
  4. Hampshire Cty
  5. Middlesex Cty
  6. Norfolk Cty
  7. Plymouth Cty
  8. Adams
  9. Andover
  10. Arlington
  11. Attleboro
  12. Belmont
  13. Beverly
  14. Boston
  15. Braintree
  16. Brookline
  17. Cambridge
  18. Chicopee
  19. Clinton
  20. Dedham
  21. Easthampton
  22. Fairhaven
  23. Fall River
  24. Falmouth
  25. Fitchburg
  26. Gloucester
  27. GLSD
  28. Greenfield
  29. Hull
  30. Leominster
  31. Lexington
  32. Lowell
  33. Lynn
  34. Malden
  35. Marblehead
  36. MassPort
  37. Maynard
  38. Melrose
  39. Methuen
  40. MHFA
  41. Milford
  42. Milton
  43. Minuteman RSD
  44. Montague
  45. MWRA
  46. Needham
  47. Newburyport
  48. N Adams
  49. Northampton
  50. Northbridge
  51. Norwood
  52. Pittsfield
  53. Plymouth
  54. Reading
  55. Revere
  56. Salem
  57. Saugus
  58. Somerville
  59. Southbridge
  60. Springfield
  61. Stoneham
  62. Taunton
  63. W. Springfield
  64. Wakefield
  65. Waltham
  66. Watertown
  67. Webster
  68. Wellesley
  69. Westfield
  70. Winchester
  71. Worcester

(as of 06/29/2023)

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