A congressional conference committee reached agreement yesterday on a reformed District of Columbia pension program that would penalize the city financially if it fails to crack down on abuses of disability retirements.
If the city needs the standards of the new measure, it would get $1.6 billion in federal subsidies over the next quarter century. The funds would remove a liability that, officials fear, could threaten the city with eventual bankruptcy.
The agreement, a compromise version of two bills passed earlier by the House and Senate, was reached by a conference committee led by Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.) and Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.).
To become law, the compromise must be accepted by both houses of Congress and signed by the president.
The pension program affects police, firefighters, municipal judges and both teachers and administrators in the school system. The program was set up by Congress, which did not establish a pension fund and required that the city pay benefits out of each year's operating budget.
By the turn of the century, it was feared, benefit payments to retirees would exceed the active annual payrolls of the affected agencies. The city now owes more than $2 billion in future benefits to those already retired or now on the payroll.
Other D.C. workers are [WORD ILLEGIBLE] by the U.S. civil service retirement program, to which both the city and its employes make regular contributions
In its agreed-upon term, the bill would tighten some provisions of the city's pension program that citiesclaim have been badly abused, and authorizes $65 million a year in federal subsidies until the year [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of $1.6 billion.
The measure tightens programmes that have permitted a high [WORD ILLEGIBLE]of police and firefighters to retire on full disability, sometimes for injuries that were sustained in civilian life that aggravated by conditions on active duty.
A House Appropriations Committee report earlier this year onward that 81percent of all D.C. retired police and firefighters were drawing disability benefits, which it said was the [WORD ILLEGIBLE]of the pattern in most other cities.
Under current D.C. law, which the new measure would replace, a retiree is determined to be either fully disabled or not disabled at all - there is nothing in between.
City officials have said the figure for the proportion of personnel retired on disability in 1977dropped to 55 percent, and that steps are being taken to tighten the retirement standards further.
Under the new bill, the provision that permits full disability retirement because of aggravated off-duty injuries is eliminated.
For personnel hired in the future, a medical determination would be made of the degree of disability suffered by a retiree. For example, an individual could get a pension based on 31 percent disability.
At the insistence of [WORD ILLEGIBLE]pushing for immediate reforms the annual $65 million subsidy would be retired under a complex formula if an audit shows a pattern of extensive disability retirements by personnel now serving in the police and fire departments.