It’s my turn: Retired public employees need a COLA
Service is a special word. Americans grant the word to our servicemen and women around the globe protecting our country, and to police officers, firefighters and educators in our communities.
Dedicating one’s life to service requires a special type of person: someone who is willing to put money aside to risk danger, to educate, to protect and to better our society.
As a 92-year-old World War II veteran, a retired firefighter, two-time Kansas Fire Marshal and chief of the Topeka Fire Department, I have something to say, and I’ve earned the right to be listened to: It has been 22 years since retired public employees in Kansas have received a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), and enough is enough.
As a farm boy from Kansas, it was my duty to defend my country after we were attacked. In 1944, I went to the enlistment office and signed up for the Navy. Based in Guam, I operated heavy machinery and served on troop transport ships throughout the Pacific. When I was honorably discharged in 1946, I came home to Kansas.
From 1954 to 1978, I served as a firefighter for the city of Topeka. After years of sirens blaring in my ears as I raced to protect my community, my hearing is almost gone. For the rest of my career, I had the pleasure of serving my state as the chief of the Topeka Fire Department and State Fire Marshal.
When I retired in 1979, I was granted a pension — a monthly benefit that I earned over 24 years of service to the city of Topeka. At the time, my benefit was modest. From 1979–1997, after several COLAs to keep up with the cost of inflation, my pension benefit was adjusted to $1,640 per month. With the exception of a one-time bonus payment of $300 in 2008 and 2009, I have not received a COLA since 1997 (22 years). Every single year since 1997, the cost of my health care, daily living expenses and groceries have gone up, but my pension benefit has stayed the same.
In 2019, almost half of my monthly pension benefit went to health care costs. It has become more and more difficult just to get by.
Thousands of retired public employees across the state of Kansas share the same story as mine. In fact, 88 percent of retirees in Kansas have never actually received a COLA since they retired. Retirees just like me are struggling right now in the various communities we protected and served.
Forced to rely on family members and in some cases, social services, the same folks who served our communities so diligently are having to turn to them again, but this time for help: for food, shelter and clothing.
In Kansas, we’re better than that.
If you’re reading this and you’re outraged, there is something you can do. On Monday, Jan. 13, the Kansas Legislature began its legislative session. Visit www.openstates.org/find_your_legislator to find your state lawmakers – both from the House of Representatives and the Senate.
When you do, give them a call or send them an email and tell them to support retired public employees — they served our communities and now they need a COLA.
Ed Redmon is a retired Topeka firefighter and WWII veteran. He says he hasn't received a cost-of-living adjustment to his pension benefit in 22 years.