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Pa. pensioners say they can’t afford inflation

Plus, tuition is going up at Pitt's main campus.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen

Thursday, July 27, 2023
Flat pay, the unprotected, tuition hike, prison correspondence, exhumation denied, paper cut, and the heat wave is on. Thanks for stopping by.

Nearly 69,000 former public school and state workers retired before Pennsylvania boosted pension payments two decades ago.

Without a cost of living adjustment, they say inflation has made their finances unworkable, and they're looking to Harrisburg to fix it. 

Two bills making their way through the legislature would provide a major boost to these retirees’ pensions, but concerns about the multibillion dollar price tag could sink their chances in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Many Pennsylvania state retirees say they can’t afford inflation on their stagnant pensions.

THE CONTEXT: Robert McVay, a former school principal from Venango County, left the commonwealth for a mobile home in Florida to be closer to his kids and get more out of his annual $27,000 Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) pension and Social Security checks.

“You would think after serving for a lifetime you would be able to enjoy these final few years, but you can't,” he told Spotlight PA. 

Enrollees in Pennsylvania’s two public sector pension funds — the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) — haven’t seen a cost of living adjustment, or COLA, since 2004. Nearly 40 other states grant them in some form.

Especially hard hit by this lack of a COLA are the almost 69,000 former public school teachers, state government workers, and other public sector employees who retired before 2001, like McVay. The resulting gap is a large one: The average pension for a SERS enrollee who retired before 2001 is under $15,000 annually. That number for a 2022 retiree is more than $30,000.


"I don’t care how many administrators you’ve had to hire, maybe you should fire them all and hire 30 reading teachers."

State Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R., Montgomery) questioning a public school official's focus on funding in a hearing on private school vouchers

Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania: The future of local news is in your hands. Donate now to Spotlight PA.
» Krasner House impeachment managers file appeal, via PoliticsPA

» Rozzi considering run for Pennsylvania Auditor General, via WHTM

» House bill aims to ban book bans in Pa., via Courier Times (paywall)

» Perry-led Freedom Caucus at crossroads, via New York Times (paywall)

» Schmidt urges Pa. Senate to act soon on primary date, via PoliticsPA

» State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie to run for Congress, via Lehigh Valley News

» How Local Gov't Works: Join us Thursday, Aug. 3 from 6-7:15 p.m. ET on Zoom for a free panel on oversight issues in local governments, how to hold officials accountable, and where you can turn to address issues with municipal services. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org


Native plants blooming in the Newtown Township pollinator rain garden, via Cindy M. Have a photo you'd like to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A bed of flowers with tall flagpoles behind it.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.NO PROTECTION: Brenda Lee Bowersox was denied a final protection from abuse order against her husband and fatally shot by him weeks later in a murder-suicide outside their York County home. The Dispatch reports the Common Pleas judge who denied the PFA, Michael Flannelly, said Brenda — who alleged a string of threats against her — failed to prove she needed one. Steven Bowersox had been ordered to relinquish his guns under a temporary PFA the court did not extend.Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.PITT TUITION: The University of Pittsburgh is raising tuition by 7% for out-of-state undergrads and 2% for in-state undergrads on its main campus this fall, TribLIVE reports. State-related schools like Pitt are setting their budgets and tuition rates with big money state appropriations still up in the air. Only one, Lincoln, agreed to a total tuition freeze called for by Republican lawmakers. 
  • RELATED: How Pennsylvania’s budget impasse has affected tuition rates at state-related universities, via Capital-Star
Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.INSIDE INFO: Eight men currently held in Lancaster County Prison contacted LNP (paywall) alleging unsafe temperatures, delayed medical treatment, and long lockdowns. With a heat wave in effect statewide, the men say their cells are so hot and humid "the walls sweat." A lack of air conditioning isn't unusual in Pennsylvania prisons. A new Lancaster County jail is planned but likely years away.Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.MOTION DENIED: Pittsburgh synagogue gunman Robert Bowers' request to exhume the body of his late father to prove paternity has been denied, the AP reports. Bowers' defense is using a family history of mental illness and Bowers' own psychiatric profile to argue against the death penalty. But a federal judge blocked the exhumation, which prosecutors said would only further slow a trial five years in the making.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.CONFIRMED CUT: The Daily Collegian, Penn State's independent student-run newspaper, will lose all funding from the university's general fund by the 2024-25 fiscal year. A 50% cut will take effect in 2023-24. A letter to readers from Editor-in-Chief Nick Stonesifer says administrators promised no unit would receive cuts of more than 4% each year leading up to 2025, adding: "The Collegian will survive."
Investigative journalism that gets results: Spotlight PA's vital work depends on you. Donate now.

DANGEROUS HEAT: Philly is under an excessive heat watch, the first of the season there, with real-feel temps topping 100 degrees for the next few days. The entire state will feel it too as a heat wave blankets the U.S.

CAR THEFTS: Sixty-six Kias and Hyundais have been stolen in York since May 1 as viral social media posts show how to start the cars without a key, YDR (paywall) reports. If you have either brand, call your dealership.

CASH CROP: Seven thousand acres of tobacco, worth an estimated $46 million, were harvested last year in Pennsylvania. WGAL reports: About 80%-90% is grown in Lancaster County, mostly by Plain farmers.

UNION VOTE: TribLIVE reports roughly 100 workers at the Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh are looking to unionize. Staff filed for a union election on July 24, citing pay, job security, mental health support, and more.

IN MEMORIAM: If you haven't yet, take a few minutes today to listen to a remembrance of the late Tony Bennett from WHYY's Terry Gross. Bennett says he left some of his heart in Philadelphia too.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be counted.
Yesterday's answer: Doohickey

Congrats to our daily winners: Carol S., Beth T., Eric F., Susan N.-Z., Bob S., Don H., Jon W., Barbara F., Elaine C., Vicki U., Craig W., Jennifer L. C., Michael K., Bob C., Dennis M., Stanley J., Ada M., Daniel S., Kimberly D., Jane R., Dan A., Wendy A., Dante T., William Z., Tom M., Art Z., Joel S., and Craig E.
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