When vested SERS members retire, they are entitled to a guaranteed pension benefit. There is no guarantee, however, that the benefit ever will be increased, and members planning to retire are cautioned that they should not assume the amount they receive from SERS ever will go up.
Whether to grant retirees’ benefit increases – properly known as supplemental annuities but more commonly known as Cost of Living Increases or COLAs – is entirely the decision of the General Assembly and the Governor. Each COLA requires new legislation, and new funding. COLAs cannot be paid from existing assets of the SERS Fund and SERS has no role in determining when or whether to grant COLAs.
Over the past 30 years, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has granted eight COLAs: 1968, 1974, 1979, 1984, 1989, 1994, 1998, and 2002/03. Generally, the amount of the COLA has reflected years of service, years in retirement and the increase in inflation since the previous COLA.
COLAs are generally given to retirees who have reached superannuation (Normal Retirement Age or 35 years of service), or the age at which the member would have been credited with 35 eligibility points (if effective date of retirement is after October 7, 1975) and all disabled retirees. COLAs are payable to early retirees on the July after reaching superannuation.
COLAs are not given to beneficiaries or survivors. The beneficiary is entitled to receive only the COLAs the State retiree was receiving prior to his/her death. Section 26 Article III (Legislation) of the Pennsylvania Constitution precludes survivor benefit recipients from receiving postretirement adjustments. In 1981, a Constitutional amendment was proposed to permit increases in the retirement allowances or pensions payable to survivor benefit recipients, but it was defeated in the statewide referendum. Therefore, beneficiaries and designated survivors of a former member are not eligible for future COLAs.
For more information see:
Summary of past COLAs
Important Facts About COLA Funding
COLA Research Reports