Letter: Build trust with ND pension program
I have yet to receive a COLA (cost-of-living adjustment). In my case, that means the check I receive today is worth only 40% of what it was when I started drawing.
I retired in 2006 after teaching 34 years in secondary ed in North Dakota. When I retired, I was happy to draw a pension through the North Dakota Teachers Fund for Retirement, (TFFR). A pension I, along with thousands of others, had earned and contributed to.
However, in the 16 years since retiring, over 9,000 other retired educators and I have yet to receive a COLA (cost-of-living adjustment). In my case, that means the check I receive today is worth only 40% of what it was when I started drawing. How many people, including legislators, would accept a 60% loss in pay over a decade and a half? Inflation in the last two years alone will reduce our pension by double digits.
In the funds newsletter, around 2012, retirees were chastised for not being patient enough in expectation of a COLA. Ten years later, and a more than doubling of equity markets, have we been patient enough?
After the 2008 market crash, with the fund showing future actuarial shortcomings, the North Dakota legislature increased contribution rates for active teachers and districts to a combined 24.5%, and yet the three billion dollar fund still has not produced to pay even a modest COLA.
For the second legislative session in a row, lawmakers will add funds to the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement Fund (NDPERS), the sister fund to TFFR. Now it’s time for legislators to step up and show respect for the value educators have provided for our youth and state.
In an Aug. 24 Herald story, Gov. Doug Burgum cited record balances for a number of state funds, including the Legacy fund at $8.2 billion. Revenues for the biennium were 20.5% above forecasts.
Quoting Burgum: “Bottom line, the state’s doing extremely well. It doesn’t make sense for the state to keep stockpiling more cash. We need to get it back into the hands of citizens.”
It’s time for legislators to adopt that attitude toward the nearly 10,000 retirees whose trust in the pension system has not met expectations.
Any educator considering retirement, or any person considering education as a career, should be aware of what to expect from their pension in North Dakota.