The Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, the largest of the state’s five pension funds, is beginning discussion on dramatically pulling back on pension benefits for anyone hired after Jan. 1, 2022.

Ohio may cut pension benefits for new government workers

When those new government employees retire decades from now, they would not be eligible for health care benefits through OPERS and they’d be given a lower multiplier for calculating their monthly pension check and they’d get a skimpier cost of living allowance, according to the early proposal.

“It’s something we’re still working through and we’re not even talking about it possibly legislation until late 2020 or 2021 but it’s generating some energy right now,” OPERS Executive Director Karen Carraher. “We still have some work to do on it. We presented it to our board so we can get them to sort of bless it so we can continue to do work on it.”

The board gave its blessing last week.

The general outline for those hired after Jan. 1, 2022 includes:

— employees contribute 11 percent of their pay toward pension, up from the current 10 percent;

— cost of living allowances would be tied to inflation, capped at 2 percent — down from the current 3 percent cap;

— workers would have a retirement medical account instead of the OPERS health care benefits;

— workers would have to work longer to be eligible for full retirement.

Carraher said “The plan will morph between now and when we finally introduce it.”

Generally, public employee pension benefits are prescribed by state law and changes require approval by the Ohio General Assembly. The retirement systems are funded by a combination of employee and employer contributions and investment returns. Government workers in Ohio are not part of the Social Security system.

OPERS has roughly 1 million retiree and worker members and $95 billion in assets.

OPERS is now asking lawmakers to allow the pension fund to halt the cost of living adjustment in 2022 and 2023 for all retirees and delay the COLA for two years for all new retirees.

Related: Ohio’s largest public pension system looks to cut benefits

Changes in pension COLAs is a big lever to straighten out a system’s finances. Likewise, retirees rely on COLAs over the long haul to preserve their buying power and keep pace with inflation.

The current COLA is 3 percent per year for those who retired before 2012 and the rate of inflation, up to 3 percent, for those who retired 2012 and later.

Carraher said the system is currently looking for a lawmaker to sponsor the COLA bill.

“That’s what we’re trying to work on. We’re meeting with pretty much meeting all the House and Senate right now,” she said.

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