By The Star Staff
Puerto Rico Teachers Association (AMPR by its Spanish initials) President Víctor Manuel Bonilla Sánchez demanded on Tuesday that the government take action to address the indigence of retired teachers.
He also announced that he has presented a series of proposals in that direction that include increasing the pensions of retirees and reestablishing the prescription drug bonus and the employer’s contribution to the medical plan.
“Following the restructuring of the public debt, the government continues to allude to the restoration of the state’s financial soundness and the projections of economic growth in the country,” Bonilla Sánchez said at a press conference. “For this reason, we demand that our claim be heard and that funds be identified and allocated to correct the situation in which retired teachers live. Not making these changes now will have greater repercussions in the future.”
The labor leader added that there is also room to consider other bonuses to compensate for the loss of retirement benefits that have plagued retirees over the past decade. The proposals were discussed in meetings that began in early October with several senators and representatives of almost all political parties.
Bonilla Sánchez noted that more than 44,000 retired teachers in Puerto Rico have an average income of $20,000 per year or below. In addition, in the past 10 years teachers have suffered significant losses in retirement benefits and since 2007 retired teachers have not received a cost-of-living adjustment to their pension, which represents a further reduction in benefits and lower return on pension income as living costs rise.
“This loss of benefits has put a large majority of our retired teachers on or near the federal poverty line,” added Dr. Fredeswinda Valentín Valentín, president of the AMPR’s Department of Retired Teachers. “The situation is aggravated considering that all the teaching staff of the Department of Education did not have the privilege of contributing to Social Security, so, in their older adulthood, all those now pensioned do not have access to Social Security and its benefits, which includes Medicare, on their own.”
According to a doctoral dissertation by former Elderly Advocate Rossana López León, the general perception of retired teachers -- one that is reinforced by recent data -- is that they do not have enough money to cover their monthly expenses.
“This means that their quality of life is not guaranteed and many have the need to return to part-time work,” López León said. “They also face constant anxiety and diminished health, as well as social isolation. Meanwhile, the economic situation of retirees will result in dependence on government services which, in more aggravated circumstances, will be more costly.”
“Faced with this situation, it is urgent to develop public policy that addresses the economic insufficiency of current and future beneficiaries,” she added.