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It’s time to reinstate cost-of-living adjustments for New Jersey’s retired public sector workers, who have not gotten a cost-of-living adjustment since 2011 while watching inflation eat away at their buying power from year to year.

Today’s prices are 1.34 times as high as average prices since 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index. A dollar today only buys 74.6 percent of what it could buy back then.

Just think about what that means: A loaf of bread that cost $1.40 in 2011 costs $1.94 today. Eggs? They were $1.81 a dozen; today they cost $3.45. How about a gallon of gas? It was $3.09 in 2011, it’s $3.55 today, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The state suspended regular cost-of-living adjustment, known as COLAs, to public employee retiree pension benefits with bipartisan legislation 12 years ago to address the fact that the pension fund was significantly unfunded.

The press conference room in the newly-renovated New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton on Wednesday, March 22, 2023.

The press conference room in the newly-renovated New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton on Wednesday, March 22, 2023.

The same legislation increased pension contribution rates for workers as the state attempted to ramp-up funding intended to reverse its long-standing policy of making only partial pension contributions. In some years, the state made no contribution to the pension fund.

Charlie Stile More money, less oversight coming to NJ politics. What could go wrong?

The absence of COLAs for public pension retirees didn’t get a lot of general notice outside the government sector over the years after they were suspended until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2019. Inflation began its rapid rise, surging to a 12-month rate of nearly 8 percent as of the end of February of last year. Inflation in New Jersey is now around 5.5 percent.

The Social Security Administration has recognized the reality of inflation and the diminishing spending power it creates for people who are retired. That’s why the SSA increased its 2023 COLA of 8.7 percent. That’s the largest COLA increase since the 11.2 percent COLA 1981, when fixed-rate mortgages hit their highest rates in history, peaking at almost 18.5 percent and averaging 16.6 percent.

Consumers have been feeling the pain of inflation every time they go to the supermarket or stop to gas their cars. Consumers living on a fixed pension feel it more.

We hear the stories of how high inflation is hitting fixed-income retirees at our local district legislative offices. The impact of freezing cost-of-living adjustments is eating away at buying power, especially for older retirees. As they age and costs continue to go up, their pensions remain static and their quality of life diminishes. Too many public sector retirees are being forced to decide if they must move away from family and friends to a less expensive part of the country. Some argue that restoring COLAs would be too expensive. But the money it costs to fund cost-of-living adjustment is going back into the local economy and the failure to fund them will hurt the economy if it drives people to leave the state.

State Senators from both parties co-sponsored legislation, S260, last year to restore cost-of-living adjustments for retired public employees. We are renewing our efforts to restore cost-of-living adjustments for retired public employees and we call on our fellow legislators to join us and make this right.It’s time to make this right.

State Sen. Vin Gopal serves as Senate Majority Conference Leader and Chair of the Senate Education Committee. He represents residents of Asbury Park, Allenhurst, Colts Neck, Deal, Eatontown, Freehold, Freehold Township, Interlaken, Loch Arbor, Long Branch, Neptune City, Neptune Township, Ocean Township, Red Bank, Tinton Falls, Shrewsbury, Shrewsbury Township and West Long Branch.

State Senator Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, chairs an education committee hearing on teen suicide on March 2, 2023

State Senator Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, chairs an education committee hearing on teen suicide on March 2, 2023

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: NJ public retires COLA 2023 Vin Gopal

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