Cost of Living Adjustment (“COLA”) for Fiscal Year 2023

Date: May 13, 2022


At its May 13, 2022 meeting, SDCERS’ Board of Administration approved the Cost of Living Adjustment (“COLA”) that will be applied to eligible SDCERS retirees’ (including active DROP participants) monthly pension benefit amount from July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2023. Your pension benefit will receive a COLA for Fiscal Year 2023 if your retirement or DROP entry date is on or before June 30, 2022.
Per San Diego Municipal Code section 24.1505 and section 1301 of the Port and Airport Plans, the COLA is calculated every year based on the change in the cost of living between the two previous Decembers, as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index (“CPI”), United States – All items. However, the maximum allowable increase in any given year is 2.0%.
In years where the COLA is greater than the maximum 2.0% (such as this year), the amount over 2% is added to what is called a “COLA bank.” A retiree’s COLA bank accumulates based on their fiscal year of retirement (or DROP entry), and each annual retiree group has its own COLA bank. In years that the CPI’s published COLA is less than 2%, each retiree group’s COLA bank may be able to increase the actual COLA received by the retiree up to a maximum of 2%, if that retiree group’s COLA bank has accrued enough funds from previous years where the published COLA was greater than 2%.
According to the CPI, the change in cost of living between December 31, 2020 and December 31, 2021 was 7.0% (rounded to the nearest 1/10th of a percent). This means that everyone who is retired or participating in DROP as of June 30, 2022 will receive the maximum 2% COLA increase to their pension benefit, and bank the additional 5.0%.*
*The two members who are in the 1981 retirement plan will receive a COLA increase of 3.2%.
This is significant because that means those who receive the fiscal year 2023 COLA and add the additional 5.0% to their COLA banks are guaranteed to receive a 2% COLA in fiscal years 2024 and 2025, at the very least (assuming we do not experience a negative COLA in either year). Let’s look at a theoretical scenario to really see the significance – please remember that we have absolutely no way of predicting what the CPI’s published COLA will be in future years and this is very much a hypothetical example: If Sam Diego retires or enters DROP in June of 2022 and his monthly pension benefit is $5,000:

You can see how the 5% addition to Sam’s COLA bank right off the bat can help ensure his benefit receives the maximum 2% increase in future years, when the published COLA is less than 2%. In the example above, we assumed that the published COLA applicable to fiscal years 2024-2029 was always between 1.4% and 2.0%. Note that if the published COLA is less in any given years, more would be subtracted from Sam’s COLA bank for those years. Conversely, if the published COLA is greater than 2.0% in any of the given years, then the amount above 2.0% would be once again added to his bank.
This article is not an attempt to persuade you to retire or enter DROP before July 1, 2022 – there are certainly other factors to consider, such as your age, upcoming salary increases, etc. (please review this article discussing factors to consider before deciding when to retire or enter DROP). However, as this is the highest published COLA we’ve seen since 1982, and it is very rare for a retiree to add such a large amount to their COLA bank in a single year, it’s worth noting and may factor into your decision to retire or enter DROP before July 1, 2022. (Note: You must enter DROP at the beginning of a pay period - so, if you enter in June 2022, your entry date must be either June 11 or June 25, 2022.)
If you are eligible to receive a fiscal year 2023 COLA, the applicable increase will be reflected in your July 2022 pension payment.

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