A Brief History
How and Why We Started
In November 1966, a small number of retirees met at lunch to discuss problems facing public service retirees. They recognized that retirees needed an organization to develop the clout to make their voices heard. As retirees themselves, they realized that their benefits were not keeping up with inflation:
- no cost-of-living measures had been provided to them (through the state legislature)
- no organization existed anywhere to represent retirees' concerns or interests.
At the time of RPEA’s incorporation in 1969, more than 1,700 retirees from all parts of New York State and a variety of agencies had become members of the fledging RPEA. Numbers continued to grow: 12,930 in 1975, 28,037 in 1990, 45,652 in 1996 and today we number more than 40,000.
- supplementation continuation law enacted to increase the pensions of eligible retirees
- State Constitutional amendment enabling the spouse of a deceased retiree to receive one half of any supplemental pension payable to the deceased retiree
Other RPEA lobbying successes 1980-2000
- Social Security benefits were excluded from NYS taxation and subsequent efforts by the Executive Branch to cancel this benefit were defeated
- Health coverage for retirees and active employees in the Empire Plan was improved
- During the state fiscal crises in the early 1990s, attempts made by the then Governor to lower investment standards for the State Retirement Funds were defeated and an effort by the governor in 1995 to suspend cost of living increases by not renewing the supplement law in 1995 was also frustrated.
- Surviving spouses gained the right to share a portion of their spouses sick leave credits that provided for the payment of their health insurance premiums
- Physician charges for Medicare enrollees are now capped by NYS law
- The number of network medical providers in the Empire Plan has been greatly expanded in Florida, Connecticut and New Jersey
- Coordinated lobbying efforts in 1998 resulted in the reduction of pension vesting rights of active employees to five years and a better formula was established for calculating the pensions of employees in active service for at least 20 years
- A death benefit for dependent beneficiaries of deceased retirees was enacted
- As a result of meetings with RPEA, the NYS Deferred Compensation Board now permits a one time postponement of the length and method of distribution of funds in the Deferred Compensation Plan
- In 1995 RPEA joined the Comptroller in a successful lawsuit to overturn legislation that would have removed $230 million from the supplementary pension fund to give to the state treasury and local governments. This legislation also provided that should a challenging lawsuit be successful, a scheduled modest cost-of living supplementation would be postponed for one year. Both provisions in that law were ruled unconstitutional. The pension fund remained intact, as it had been since its inception 24 years earlier.
Permanent and Automatic Cost of Living Increases Enacted in 2000
On July 11, 2000 Gov. Pataki signed Chapter 125 of the Laws of 2000, a far-reaching pension enhancement that will improve the lives of public employees forever more. RPEA’s 30 year crusade for such a law culminated in a historic victory. It was the ability of RPEA and its members to forge a coalition with other retiree groups and unions in lobbying for this change that resulted in the successful outcome. The law impacts on state, county and local public retirees and active employees including, public school teachers, SUNY professors, policemen, firemen and members of other New York retirement systems.
Effective Sept.1, 2000 retirees before 1997 received a sliding scale “catch up” cost of living supplement on the first $18,000 of a zero option base pension, with the greater percentages to go to those retired the longest.
In September 2001 there was a permanent cost- of -living adjustment to pensions equal to 50% of the rate of annual inflation, with a maximum increase per year of 3% and a minimum of 1% on the first $18,000 of the base pension. To be eligible retirees must be age 62 or older and retired for five years or more or attained the age of 55 and retired 10 years, or are disabled, regardless of age, and retired five years.
Although 17 modest pension supplementation laws were passed in the period 1957-1995, all had caps ranging from the $ 7,000 in 1957 of a pension to $12,500 in 1995. The earliest laws required that the cost of living rise by at least 3% in order for supplementation to take place, and some later supplementation laws applied only to retirees 62 years of age or older or who were at least age 55 were retired at least a decade.
Protection of Medicare Part B Reimbursement
RPEA discovered during the annual review and analysis of budget and legislative documents that the proposed Executive Budget for 2005-2006 alluded to a Budget Division plan to include the State’s cost of Medicare Part B premium reimbursement in the premium calculations for the Empire Plan and all of the health insurance options offered through NYSHIP – an action which would force retirees and active State employees to pay higher health insurance premiums to partially fund the reimbursement. Additionally, this action, clearly in violation of State Law posed a long term threat to the reimbursement itself.
RPEA was able to alert organizations representing active employees of the critical nature of this issue which led to the formation of a coalition to oppose the State’s position.
In collaboration with these organizations, RPEA filed briefs in support of a accurate interpretation of existing law and in opposition to the State’s action. As a result, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court issued an unanimous decision that the State had violated the Civil Service Law by requiring State employees and retirees to contribute toward the State’s cost of reimbursing State retirees and their dependents for the Medicare Part B premiums deducted from their Social Security payments. The Court ruled that the State’s “new interpretation of Civil Service Law Section 1 67-a is inconsistent with the plain language of the statute and its legislative history”.
RPEA Retired Public Employees Association, 435 New Karner Road, Albany, NY 12205, (518) 869-2542 or toll-free (800) 726-7732