Monday, April 15, 2024

COLA, PEBB Month of Death Bill Pass Legislature

COLA, PEBB Month of Death Bill Pass Legislature

On the evening of Wednesday, February 28, the Washington State Senate unanimously passed Substitute House Bill 1985 and House Bill 2481, RPEC’s top priority bills.  As identical versions of both bills were previously passed by the Washington State House of Representatives, both pieces of legislation have secured final passage and will now be headed to Governor Jay Inslee for signature.

PERS 1 & TRS 1 Retirees Likely to Receive COLA in July

SHB 1985 provides a one-time 3% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to PERS 1 and TRS 1 retirees not to exceed $110 per month.  The bill, which is sponsored by Representative Joe Timmons (D, Bellingham), will need to be funded in the supplemental operating budget bill that is currently being negotiated between House and Senate leaders.  As both chambers have passed the bill, funding is expected to appear in the budget, which will need to be passed before the end of the Legislative Session on Thursday, March 7.  Retirees would receive the COLA with their July pension payments, which are initiated at the end of the month.

In 2011, PERS 1 and TRS 1 became the only pension plans managed by the Department of Retirement Systems (DRS) to not receive automatic annual COLAs when the Legislature took away the Uniform COLA.  Since then, RPEC has worked tirelessly to restore retirement security to PERS 1 and TRS 1.  In 2018, 2020, 2022, 2023, and now 2024, RPEC played a major role in passing bills to provide one-time COLAs.  As necessary and appreciated as the one-time COLAs have been, they have fallen short of providing long-term relief.  Retirees are unable to make informed decisions about the future when the legislature only grants COLAs on a year-by-year basis.  While one-time COLAs have been granted in four of the last five years, the Legislature has been reluctant to commit to an annual COLA.  In 2023, RPEC helped pass a bill that requires the Select Committee on Pension Policy to study and recommend a proposal to restore an ongoing COLA.  This work is to be completed by the end of 2024 and RPEC will have a voice in crafting the proposal.  If all goes well, RPEC will have a legitimate shot at restoring an ongoing COLA in 2025.

PEBB Retirees Protected from Losing Health Insurance in Month of Death

HB 2481, which is sponsored by Representative Mike Volz (R, Spokane), waives Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) health insurance premiums for retirees in the month that they pass away.  This bill addresses a problem that impacts the survivors of many retirees who have their monthly PEBB premiums automatically deducted from their pensions.  Because pension payments are prorated for the month of death, DRS is not able to transmit the health insurance premium to the Health Care Authority (HCA) as it usually does.  HCA then has to inform survivors that they must pay their deceased loved one’s final health insurance premium or risk losing coverage.  As survivors are often consumed by many other responsibilities associated with losing a loved one, the health insurance premium payment is not always made, causing the deceased retiree to lose supplemental health insurance for their final month of life.  The results of this can be catastrophic, with massive end-of-life care expenses passed on to the survivors.  HB 2481 will prevent this problem from occurring, as it will waive month-of-death health insurance premiums for all PEBB retirees.  The bill comes at no cost to the state, so it will not need to be funded in the budget.

Looking Ahead to November

The passage of SHB 1985 and HB 2481 signify the end to another successful legislative session for RPEC.  These bills passed thanks to the nearly 13,000 RPEC members who dedicate their time, energy, and money to advocacy.  Together, we have worked to build relationships with our legislators and educate them on our issues.  We must now look ahead to November and shift our focus to re-electing legislators who have worked hard for us.  We must also identify new candidates who support our issues and help them run for office.  The only path to a successful 2025 Legislative Session is a successful election in November.  Stayed tuned for opportunities to participate in RPEC’s political action program.

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