Sunday, November 17, 2019

Retirees applaud Senate vote on resolution against pension cuts

By on November 7, 2019

Retiree advocate group Frente en Defensa de las Pensiones (Courtesy)

Group schedules demonstration against proposed reductions in debt adjustment plan

SAN JUAN — A group that represents Puerto Rico retirees, Frente en Defensa de las Pensiones (Front in Defense of Pensions), is taking credit for a Senate vote Thursday on Concurrent Resolution 114, which rejects the pension cuts proposed in the Plan of Adjustment for the commonwealth on Sept. 27 by the Financial Oversight and Management Board.

Earlier Thursday, ahead of the vote on the measure, the spokesman for the retiree chapter of the Puerto Rico Teachers Federation, Pedro Pastrana, had said the information the union was given was that a majority of senators was in favor of the resolution, the lower chamber version of which was already passed by the House of Representatives on Oct. 21. 

The debt adjustment plan includes cuts of up to 8.5 percent to pensions of more than $1,200 a month for retirees in the Government Employees Retirement System, the Teachers Retirement System and the Judiciary Retirement System but the plan’s implementation hinges on its legislative approval; however, this is contrary to the resolution’s motives.

“The Legislative Assembly expressed, in a clear and unequivocal way, that it will not approve any legislation that makes it viable neither the referred adjustment plan nor the reduction of current retirement benefits that public employees have,” the resolution states. 

The spokesperson for Construyamos Otro Acuerdo (Let’s Construct Another Agreement), Sonia Palacios, who is a retired Justice Department prosecutor, explained that besides her campaign and the Teachers Federation, Frente en Defensa de las Pensiones also represents retiree chapters of the organizations Unete, Federación de Pensionados y Jubilados de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Retirees Federation), and Comité Especial de Jubilados del Colegio de Profesionales de Trabajo Social (Association of Social Work Professionals’ Special Retiree Committee).

Palacios argued that the resolution, which doesn’t require Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced’s signature, hinders the debt adjustment plan from moving forward.

“With the approval of this resolution, the [fiscal oversight] board has it more difficult now to get the approval of the debt adjustment plan. Section 314 of Promesa [Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act] states that for court confirmation of any debt adjustment plan, the legislation that makes viable its implementation needs to have been approved,” Palacios said, adding. “So this legislation has a lot of power to ask the board to amend that plan to eliminate the cuts to the pensions.”

The measure states that a copy of the resolution will be sent to President Donald Trump, Congress and the fiscal board but fails to mention Judge Laura Taylor Swain, who is presiding over the Title III proceedings under Promesa and would be responsible for approving the debt adjustment plan. 

The retiree advocate group also has a protest scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 12, in front of fiscal board Chairman José Carrión’s residence.

Retirees and lawmakers are not the only ones expressing concern over the restructuring process, the chairman if the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, Raúl Grijalva, along with U.S. Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Darren Soto sent an amicus brief urging Judge Swain to not approve the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s restructuring plan because of the so=called transition charge to cover debt service that could increase the electric bill up to 47 percent. 

“We will not abandon the struggle of Puerto Rico to make sure the rights of our pensioners are not disrupted. The [fiscal board] intends to leave the future of some 325,860 active and retired public servants in the hands of Hon. Laura Taylor Swain, presenting a plan of adjustment of the Central Government under Title III of the Federal PROMESA Law, including pension reform. Thus proposing a change in the formula with which the pensions that are paid today are calculated, whose dire consequence would be a reduction to our pensioners’ income,” the authors of the piece said.