Teachers Not Alone: LASERS, The State’s Largest Retirement System, Is Reemploying Retirees As Well — Only On A Much Smaller Scale
The Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System provides defined benefits to more than 150,000 members. These are the folks that make government tick — state employees, prison guards, wildlife agents, peace officers, judges, elected officials and the like.
LASERS has 10,000 fewer members than the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana, which serves folks with gigs related, sometimes loosely, to public education. Not a gigantic difference when glanced from afar. But LASERS does stand out in its practice of allowing members back into the public workforce.
TRSL pays out $21 million in benefits each month to roughly 6,300 retired members who have gone back on the job, based on numbers released by the system at the outset of this summer. LASERS, meanwhile, is shelling out $1.6 million each month to 552 reemployed retirees, according to public records.
While the program at TRSL certainly outweighs LASERS’, all of the participants have found a way to have their taxpayer-funded cake and eat it too — that is, collect retirement checks and a state salary.
State law prohibits the retirement systems from directly providing the names of its members, but a spreadsheet prepared by LASERS in August shows that one of its members is pulling down more than $11,000 in benefits each month, three are earning in excess of $10,000 monthly and another five greater than $8,000.
The average monthly retirement compensation for LASERS’ retire-rehire members is about $2,800, based on public records.
If a LASERS retiree wants to return to work with a member agency, they have three options:
1.) They can limit their new earnings to 50 percent of their annual retirement benefits.
This earnings limit is calculated by taking the monthly benefit, adjusted for inflation based on the Consumer Price Index, dividing it by two and multiplying the sum by 12. For example, for someone with a monthly retirement benefit of $4,500, their earnings limit would be $29,834.19. That’s what kind of state salary the reemployed retiree would be allowed to accept while simultaneously drawing down their regular retirement benefits. Under this option, reemployed retirees do not continue paying contributions.
LOOPHOLE: If retired with 30 years of service credit, retirees age 70 or older are allowed to take on whatever new salary they want without limitations and without impacting their currently monthly retirement benefits.
2.) They can pay back all retirement benefits to LASERS, thus restoring prior service credit.
In essence, it’s as if no retirement took place at all. This option is not available for those who have participated in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, took the Initial Benefit Option, or retired early.
3.) They may suspend their retirement benefits and become a contributing member again.
Upon retiring the second go around, their retirement benefits are resumed.
LOOPHOLE: If an individual has 30 years of service credit with LASERS, have been retired for only one year, and are appointed by the governor to an unclassified position, a retiree can get back in through this option without having to suspend their retirement benefits.
Classes of employees that are subject to these reemployed retiree provisions include, but are not limited to, part-time, work-as-needed, temporary, job appointments and seasonal employees.
LOOPHOLE OF ALL LOOPHOLES: None of these restrictions apply to LASERS members who retired prior to June 30, 2001, were re-employed prior to May 9, 2002, and have remained continually employed.
Jeremy Alford is a freelance journalist based in Baton Rouge. You can reach him through his Web site at www.jeremyalford.com.