The Connecticut General Assembly
OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH
September 20, 1996 96-R-01238
FROM: Judith S. Lohman, Principal Analyst
RE: Teachers' Retirement System—Survivor's Benefits
You asked what benefits the Teacher' Retirement System (TRS) provides for dependent survivors of teachers who die before they retire, whether these benefits are subject to annual cost of living adjustments, and how to increase the TRS survivor's benefit.
If a Connecticut public school teacher dies before he is eligible to retire, his family receives a maximum survivors' benefit of $ 600 per month, plus a lump sum death benefit of up to $ 2,000. There is no annual cost of living adjustment. These benefits are set by state law. They were last increased on July 1, 1977.
The General Assembly could set higher benefit levels and make then subject to existing cost of living adjustments. Such changes would increase the cost of the TRS. Teacher retirement costs are largely paid by the state. The last proposal to increase TRS survivor's benefits was introduced in the 1995 session. The General Assembly took no action on it.
TRS SURVIVORS' BENEFITS
TRS provides benefits to survivors if a teacher dies (1) while working in Connecticut public schools, (2) within two months after he stops working but before his retirement takes effect, or (3) while receiving TRS disability benefits. There is no minimum service requirement.
Monthly Benefit. The basic benefits are: $ 200 per month to one dependent child under 18 (or over 18 if disabled) or $ 300 per month divided equally between two or more such children; $ 300 per month to a surviving spouse or dependent former spouse who is receiving child support; and, if there is no surviving spouse or dependent former spouse, $ 300 per month to a dependent parent over age 65. The maximum family survivors' benefit is $ 600 per month. Dependent survivors are not entitled to an annual cost of living adjustment.
Lump Sum Death Benefit. In addition to the monthly benefit, a surviving spouse receives a lump sum death benefit, if the spouse was living with the teacher when he died. The benefit is $ 1,000 for five or fewer years of Connecticut public school service and $ 200 for each additional year of service, up to a maximum of $ 2,000 for 10 years' service. If there is no surviving spouse, the death benefit can be used for burial expenses.
Return of Contributions. Instead of receiving the monthly survivor's benefit and the lump sum death benefit, a sole survivor over age 18 whom the teacher designated as a retirement beneficiary may choose to receive a lump sum payment equal to the teacher's total contributions to the TRS plus credited interest. (Each public school teacher must contribute 7% of his annual salary to the TRS. )
Alternate Surviving Spouse Benefit. A sole surviving spouse may chose a life-time benefit equal to that received by the survivor of a retired teacher who elected the 50% co-participant option upon retirement. (The 50% co-participant option provides an actuarially reduced monthly benefit to the retired teacher for life with 50% of that amount continuing to be paid after the teacher's death to his designated co-participant. ) This option is available only if: (1) the surviving spouse is either the sole designated beneficiary or all other designated beneficiaries relinquish their claims to benefits and (2) the teacher was, at the time of death, eligible for regular retirement benefits.
WAYS TO INCREASE TRS SURVIVORS' BENEFITS
Survivors' benefits, like all other aspects of teachers' retirement, are governed by state law. The General Assembly could enhance survivors' benefits by increasing the benefit levels or by applying the regular TRS retirement cost of living adjustments to them. Either change would increase costs to the Teachers' Retirement Fund and affect the state's ultimate liability for paying teacher pensions.
Increasing Benefit Levels
The General Assembly could increase the maximum family survivors' benefit by amending CGS § 10-183h(a). The benefits were last increased in 1977 (PA 77-547). The most recent proposal to increase the current amounts was submitted in 1995 (Proposed Bill 704, copy attached). That bill sought to increase the benefits from $ 200 to $ 300 per month for one child, $ 300 to $ 500 per month for two or more children, and from $ 300 to $ 500 for a surviving spouse, with the total family maximum increasing from the current $ 600 to $ 1,000 per month. It was referred to the Appropriations Committee, which took no action on it.
Cost of Living Adjustments
If the General Assembly wished to provide the same annual cost of living adjustments for basic survivors benefits as for retirement benefits, it could amend CGS § 10-183g. That section provides two different COLAs. Subsection (j) specifies that teachers who retired before September 1, 1992 receive annual COLAs of between 3% and 5% depending on the increase in the Consumer Price Index. Subsection (k) requires that teachers who retire on or after that date to receive annual COLAs of between 0% and 6% depending on the investment performance of the Teachers' Retirement Fund and the COLA payable on Social Security benefits for the same year. Either of these subsections could be amended to specify that they apply to the basic survivor's benefits in subsection (a) of § 10-183h.