A group of retired teachers grilled outgoing Majority Leader Denise Merrill and Rep. John Geragosian, chairman of the legislature’s spending committee, Monday over the state’s decision to delay its payment to the Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance Fund.
In order to balance both the 2010 and 2011 budget, the state’s $60.5 million contribution to the fund was delayed for the first time in the fund’s history.
“By 2014 and 2015 it will be bankrupt,” Cathy D’Agostino, co-chairwoman of the Association of Retired Teachers in Connecticut, said. She said the recent teacher retirements and salary reductions, in addition to more retired teachers seeking to participate in the fund, have compounded the problem. The organization represents more than 10,000 retired teachers.
Since 1996 the state has helped fund about one-third of the Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance Fund, while the rest of the contributions come from active and retired teachers.
Even though the state won’t be making its contribution, retired teachers aren’t being asked to pay more, but the $110 per month benefit used to cover 76 percent of their health care costs and now it only covers about 20 percent, Michael Norman, president of the Association of Retired Teachers, said.
“We’re looking at you to tell us you’re going to put the money in before we go bankrupt,” Rosalynn Schoonmaker, a Teachers Retirement Board trustee, said.
“We had to make some very difficult decisions this year,” Geragosian said.
He said next year won’t be much easier with a $3.2 billion deficit, but there is a provision that specifies that if money in the fund is insufficient the General Assembly shall appropriate sufficient funds. That was about as much assurance as he could give the group, but that wasn’t good enough for some retired teachers.
“It’s the worst its ever been,” Schoonmaker, whose been with the Teachers Retirement Board for 35 years, said. “No matter what we end up doing, we end up going begging.”
Merrill, who won’t be dealing with these budget issues if she wins her campaign for Secretary of the State, tried to put a more positive spin on the situation.
At least one person proposed eliminating the contribution altogether, Merrill said. “I would say it’s a victory if all we did is delay payment to the fund for two years.”
The full pension amount of $559.2 million in 2010 and $581.6 million in 2011 was made to the Teachers’ Retirement Fund, which Merrill said is in much better shape than the state employees’ retirement fund. It should be noted that teachers don’t pay into or receive Social Security benefits unless it’s through a spouse.