The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Illinois

December 5, 2013

Ill. workers, retirees worry about pensions changes

CHICAGO — Teachers, welfare specialists and other public employees in Illinois are nervous about pension changes that lawmakers approved Tuesday in an attempt to resolve the state’s worst-in-the-nation pension crisis.

Among their bigger worries is a change in the cost-of-living increase, which currently is 3 percent compounded annually on their full annual benefit. Under the new plan, retirees will receive the 3 percent increases only until their annuity reaches a certain amount. That will limit their annual pension payments — dramatically in some cases — compared with what they would get under the current system.

Lawmakers who supported the changes say they protect the longest-serving and lowest-income retirees while helping to resolve the state’s $100 billion pension shortfall.

Here are some employees’ stories:

JoAnn Washington-Murry has spent almost 20 years as a child welfare specialist with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, making sure that kids in foster care and institutions are not abused or neglected. Her plan was to work another five years or so, then retire with an expected annual benefit starting at about $25,000.

Now she’s not sure she’ll be able to join her husband in retirement that soon.

The couple still has about 18 years left to pay off their house, which is worth less than they owe. And with a combined mortgage and property tax payment of about $24,000 a year, they might have to consider selling unless she keeps working longer than she wants to, Washington-Murry said. Her husband retired two years ago and is on a fixed income.

“That’s the only way I can see it,” said Washington-Murry, 60, of the Chicago suburb of East Hazelcrest. Based on her projected retirement benefit and 25 years of service, she could receive a cumulative $30,000 less over the next 18 years under the new pension plan, she said.

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