AMERICAN SAMOA SEEKS PAY HIKE FOR RETIREES

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Four percent COLA increase retroactive to2008

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Jan. 21, 2011) – In American Samoa, Governor Togiola Tulafono is seeking legislative approval of a 4 percent hike in the cost of living allowance (COLA) for retirees of the American Samoa Government (ASG) workforce, to assist the retirees in caring for their families with the modest increase.

In a Jan. 15 letter to the Fono leadership, the Governor explained that the 4 percent in the COLA adjustment is for those retirees of the American Samoa Government who retired on, or prior to Sept. 30, 2008.

"The current position of fiscal strength that our government holds today is due in no small part to the immense efforts of ASG’s past workforce, he wrote. This legislation recognizes those invaluable contributions to our financial security. This cost of living allowance increase shall be paid retroactively from Oct. 1, 2008 and it would increase monthly annuities for ninety-one percent of our retirees, said Togiola, who urged the Fono to support the speedy passage of this legislation."

The Governor’s letter includes the COLA hike proposal, which is now being put into bill form for introduction in both the Senate and House. Lawmakers will be requesting an actuary report on the retirement fund when the bill is reviewed, in accordance with local retirement statute.

Some lawmakers also plan to obtain data from the Retirement Office as to the total number of retirees receiving benefits as well as the total number of retirees who would benefit from the proposed COLA hike and what impact, if any, this proposal will have on the retirement fund itself.

The cost of living increase proposal comes weeks after Togiola revealed on his radio program that his office received complaints from the community, and the Governor has been blamed for not sending to the Fono the ASG Retirement Fund increase of the COLA adjustment for 2010.

He acknowledged that he received the proposal from the retirement fund but it was only for a 2 percent increase in benefits for retirees, while the board spends thousands of dollars on off-island trips for meetings including the much publicly criticized board meeting held in the United Kingdom years ago.

(The proposal was supposed to be submitted during the last Legislative session, but none had come through by the time the Fono officially ended in the first week of October.)

Togiola complained that it’s always a 2 percent proposal by the retirement fund, and he questioned whether this is enough to cover the increase in the cost of living for retirees. For example, if your benefit is US$1,000 a month and you add on 2 percent, that means it’s only US$20 in new money, he points out.

Togiola says he questioned how a retiree would benefit from only a "measly US$20" in new money when financial reports show the retirement fund is improving financially and there is enough money in the fund to pay for a higher increase.

According to the Governor, a similar proposal of only 2 percent was submitted in the past but he rejected it, which resulted in a change giving 4 percent to those who retired years ago and 2 percent for those who retired after 1990 because these individuals were in a higher pay scale than those who retired prior to 1990.

Togiola described the 2 percent hike as something from the Retirement Board to appease and to fool retirees, and that is why he is very hurt, disappointed and critical of the board and their decisions.

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