BY CARRIE HODOUSEK
CHARLESTON — West Virginia retirees are urging state lawmakers to consider a one-time supplement to provide financial relief for the state’s older population.
Representatives from AARP West Virginia and other groups were at the state Capitol Tuesday to speak at a hearing before the Joint Standing Committee on Pensions and Retirement during the final day of interim committee meetings.
Speakers encouraged lawmakers to tap into the state’s $1.3 billion surplus to provide a one-time supplement for certain state retirees living on fixed incomes.
AARP West Virginia State President Jane Marks told the committee many retirees are struggling to pay for rising household and utility costs due to inflation.
“A modest, one time, $1,500 supplemental payment from our state’s unprecedented surplus would provide meaningful relief to many of our retirees and their families who are living on fixed incomes, especially as they continue to recover from the health and financial impacts of the pandemic,” Marks said.
Marks said a COLA, or Cost of Living Adjustment, for retirees would make more sense in the future since the state’s older population tends to drive economic growth the most.
“Our report revealed that 50-plus households account for $0.60 of every $1 spent in West Virginia,” she said. “A COLA for these retirees will create a similar ripple effect throughout West Virginia’s economy as our retirees spend these dollars on the goods and services they need to survive and thrive.”
Danny Gray, a retired 31 year Greenbrier County educator representing the West Virginia Association of Retired School Employees, told lawmakers prices are going up on everything and he needs help keeping up.
“When I first retired in 2001, I was not taking any medications. I now take six prescription drugs daily — add to that the increasing costs of groceries, utilities and all other calls to daily life including gas for my car,” Gray said.
Gray added the buying power of his pension has shrunk since he left the workforce.
“In all of those years since I retired, I’ve never gotten a cost-of-living adjustment or any kind of increase, so the household budget becomes a little more strained with each passing year,” he said.
AARP reports the state’s 50-plus population accounted for 41 percent of West Virginia’s population, yet contributed 44 percent — or $37 billion — of the state’s total Gross Domestic Product, supporting 426,000 jobs and generating $22 billion in wages and salaries.
There are 250,000 AARP members in West Virginia.