We served our communities, now we need an inflation adjustment to survive

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In the early 1990s, a woman who was struggling entered my office. She had two little boys and an ex-husband who refused to pay child support. I sat her down, discussed her options for assistance and asked a question I asked many young women who entered my office: “What are you going to do for the rest of your life?” I asked her this question because my job wasn’t just to process food stamp requests or to make sure young families wouldn’t end up on the street — it was to mentor and guide young people to make sure they never needed assistance again.

As a retired benefits specialist for the Wyoming Department of Family Services (DFS), these types of stories are not uncommon. That woman with two little boys ended up using a Pell Grant provided by the government to go to college and, after graduating, she got a job working for a local church, making more than enough to provide for her young family.

I worked for DFS for almost twenty years, helping families throughout Wyoming when they fell on hard times. My coworkers and I shared the same goals because as a community we lift people up; we don’t leave them behind. Working for DFS brought me great joy because, for my entire professional career, all I wanted to do was mentor young women and make sure they didn’t make the same mistakes I did when I was younger. As a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 46 years, I know that everyone has that drive inside of them to accomplish great things even when they think they can’t. As a benefits specialist, I found that drive in people and lifted them up when their challenges tried to bring them down.

When I retired thirteen years ago after years of service to my community, I was provided a pension. My pension is very modest. Some in the Legislature would like you to believe that all retirees move to Florida and sail to the Bahamas every weekend on their yachts. Like most Wyoming Retirement System retirees, I stayed right here in my community, where I volunteer with the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous and teach folks around the community genealogy through my church. I love Wyoming because this is my home.

Since I retired, each year it has become tougher to get by. In 2008, the Wyoming Legislature issued its last inflation adjustment for retired public employees. It has been a long 12 years since we have seen any relief. In that time, the price of groceries and healthcare has continued to increase and my modest pension benefit no longer covers all of the costs. Retirees’ health care deductibles are increasing and the cost of prescription drugs is skyrocketing. Many retirees like me aren’t able to keep up.

This coming legislative session, lawmakers should pass a 4 percent inflation adjustment for Wyoming’s retired public employees. Each and every one of us are pillars of our communities: we’re your kids’ little league baseball coaches, your neighbors, friends, family and the people sitting next to you at church on Sundays. We need this inflation adjustment or some of us will slip further into poverty, and be forced to rely on the various services I once worked to make sure no one would ever need.