More than 100,000 federal, postal and military retirees living in the Washington area are due a 4.4 percent COL (cost of living) raise this March. That figure is official.
The 4.4 percent inflation catchup will go to nearly 3 million former civil servants -- from retired members of Congress to janitors -- and ex-military people or their survivors. The COL increase is effective March 1. It will be in the check delivered in early April.
By law, federal-military retirees get Col adjustments every six months. Last September retirees got a 7.7 percent increase. In March 1980 the raise was a flat 6 percent. By contrast white collar federal workers, whose pay is set by the president based on private industry salaries, got a 9.1 percent raise last October. President Carter's final budget to Congress recommended a 5.5 percent October 1981 increase for federal civilian workers.
Since their pensions were hitched to the rate of inflation, federal retirees hvae gotten bigger percentage increases than their active duty counterparts. The surge in living costs, plus a freeze on salaries for top government executives has prompted thousands of senior level workers to retire in recent months. Because of the rate of inflation and pay "caps," a growing number of U.S. retirees now get pensions equal to or better than the salaries they were earning when they retired.
According to data from the Office of Personnel Management the average retired federal worker now gets a monthly pension of $981 (before taxes). The average survivor benefit, OPM says, is $392 per month. Unlike Social Security payments, which are typically lower, U.S. government retirement benefits are taxable.
Four days before he left office, President Carter sent proposed legislation to Capitol Hill to wipe out the twice-early COL adjustments for government retirees. His proposal would limit government retirees to a single annual inflation raise, the same as the formula for persons under Social Security.
Congress approved the single COL concept last year, but backed off at the last minute under tremendous pressure from federal retiree groups and government unions. Candidate Ronald Reagan wrote the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, the largest of all federal worker groups, saying he favored the twice-yearly COL concept.
Congress did, however, eliminate two major benefits for future retirees. It abolished the so-called "look back" and "look forward" features that allowed retirees to get benefit of the COL that went into effect immediately before they retired, plus the full amount of the first COL that took place after they retired. Look-back was abolished as of Jan. 18. That was the last day persons could retire and benefit from the 7.7 percent raise that went into effect in September. The look-forward feature has been modified so that new and future retirees get a prorated portion of the first COL that goes into effect after they retire. If you retire six months before the next COL raise is due you get the full amount; if you retire one month before it goes into effect you get one-sixth of the raise.