ARF meeting emphasizes importance of PERS

Guest speakers at Tuesday's ARF meeting included (left to right) MRPEA Networking Committee chair Mike Larsen, MRPEA President Ann Thames, MRPEA Vice President Ed LeGrand and Mississippi Sen. Hob Bryan. (Photo by Sarah Raines, SDN)
Staff Writer

The Association of Retired Faculty at Mississippi State University held a forum-type panel on Tuesday to allow representatives to discuss what state employees can do to protect defined benefits systems designed to support them after retiring.

Guest speakers included State Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, as well as Mississippi Retired Public Employees' Association (MRPEA) representatives Ann Thames, Ed LeGrand, and Mike Larsen.

In opening statements for the program, MRPEA President Ann Thames encouraged attendees to stay informed with who is in office and what they are voting for.

"The only thing the legislature responds to is a lot of negative," Thames said. "You have to be in touch with them, you have to get involved."

The Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) set up for state employees was discussed at the meeting, and Bryan said that legislature has recently been discussing replacing programs like PERS with 401K programs.

PERS is a program that requires employees to invest in their retirement throughout their career. Three factors Bryan said are important with PERS are building compound interest, keeping an economic scale and making younger employees set aside money for retirement.

Bryan shared his experience in the legislature, saying there are two major issues to the retirement system — one that can be helped and one that cannot.

The first issue Bryan mentioned is low interest rates, which can't be changed but will stabilize naturally over time. The second Bryan mentioned was something he said could be fixed, which is the reduction in number of employees for the state. When there are less state employees to invest in PERS, there is less money going in and less interest being compiled.

MRPEA Vice President Ed LeGrand added that budget cuts also pose a problem, and have led to the loss of benefits like funding to get help for state employees with alcohol and drug problems.

MRPEA Networking Committee chair Mike Larsen said state employees and retired state employees shouldn't assume their retirement system is safe, but should stay informed of what is going on in the legislature and take part in the voting process in 2019.

"There are about 400,000 of us who are involved in the retirement system in this state," Larsen said. "If every one of us has a significant other or family member who is a voter, that is 800,000 voters."