Finding Your COLA
Many of our ORTA/ACRTA members have asked how to find their COLA amount and effective date. Here are the steps to follow:
1. Log onto STRSOH.org
2. Login (username/password)
If you have never logged onto your retirement account, you will create your account first.
3. Complete "Multifactor Authentication" process.
4. Click on “My Home Page”.
5. Click on "Recipient Account".
6. Scroll down to access “Cost of living adjustment (COLA)”.
7. Your “Anniversary date” and “effective date” of your COLA will be posted.
8. Your retirement base (Benefit Base for COLA) on which the 3% will be determined is shown. All COLA increases are calculated on the original benefit amount (base) and are not compounded.
9. Your monthly increase (before taxes and deductions) is shown.
All Ohio Retired Teacher Association endorsed candidates were elected to the STRS Board. You indeed have made a difference and proved again that "Together we can" - and did. This is just the first battle in a long war, but there may be hope that the benefits retirees have long been due will finally begin to be re-established and that common sense and integrity will again guide our STRS.
Please click below to see official results:
Exposing Wall Street’s Pension Looting
The Lever spoke with NY Assemblyman Ron Kim, PA state Senator Katie Muth, and former SEC attorney Ted Siedle about their fight to protect workers’ retirement benefits.
"It's the story of, what I call the largest upward transfer of wealth in modern history, the one that most people don't know very much about. It's the story of how Wall Street is minting millionaires and billionaires using the retirement savings of teachers, firefighters, sanitation workers and all, really all government workers. And it's a story that corporate media doesn't very well cover all that often. And it's really also a story of secrecy. So that's what we're going to be discussing tonight" - David Sirota, The Lever
Watch the recording of the live chat at https://www.levernews.com/5-4-pensionlivechat/
The Mess at STRS
What more needs to be said than this:
Ohio State Senator Teresa Fedor introduces Senate Bill 280 which would restore STRS COLAs
Call, write, email your state senators NOW to demand they support this bill.
Ohio Senator Teresa Fedor would like to see COLA benefits promised to teachers restored and end this unconscionable secretive assault on teacher retirement security. Ohio Democrat John Cranley recently picked Fedor, a long-time legislator from Toledo and a former school teacher, as his lieutenant governor running mate.
Fedor has introduced legislation to bring back the COLA: “This bill fulfills a promise made to retirees years ago,” Fedor said. “With inflation at an all-time high, retirees living on a fixed income need this adjustment more than ever. Though this increase does not make up for all the money they have lost over the years, it is still the right thing to do." Fedor's bill has support from fellow Senate Democrats but no Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors.
Ohio Lawmaker Wants To End Wall Street Wealth Transfer At State Teachers Pension
Cost of living benefits promised to retired teachers in Ohio were slashed a decade ago and then totally eliminated 5 years later, as payments by the state teachers’ pension to Wall Street’s highest cost money managers secretly skyrocketed. Retired teachers have suffered over the past decade as Wall Street has prospered. An Ohio lawmaker wants to end this audacious wealth transfer by trimming payments to Wall Street and restoring the promised COLA benefits to deserving teachers. If she’s successful, legally-mandated transparency (which STRS Ohio long abandoned to facilitate the wealth transfer scheme) may finally return.
Retired teachers in Ohio saw the 3 percent cost of living adjustments they had been promised slashed a decade ago and then totally eliminated in 2017. Over the years retirees were told that cutting and then eliminating COLA benefits was necessary to shore up the pension’s finances. It sounded simple enough: reducing benefits paid to teachers—cutting costs—would result in more money in the pension, i.e., increasing the pension’s funding level.
Not surprising, retirees weren’t told that cutting their COLA benefits by 3 percent to secretly pay Wall Street money managers ever greater fees—often in excess of 4 percent (even when they underperform)—does nothing to strengthen the pension. It’s simply a blatant wealth transfer scheme—the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of retired teachers is undermined to secretly enrich a handful of politically-connected Wall Street billionaires.
Local media has unfairly criticized Fedor, claiming she doesn’t have a plan to pay for restoring the promised COLA, even as Fedor has suggested the STRS Ohio board look at reducing fees paid to Wall Street and possibly increasing the employer contribution rate.
That sure sounds like a plan to me.
In fact, a June 2021 preliminary forensic investigation of Ohio STRS I conducted on behalf of the 20,000- member Ohio Retired Teachers Association concluded there is ample reason to believe “the total fees the pension pays to Wall Street are nearly double what it is reporting, amounting to almost $1 billion annually. To put the hidden, unreported fees—alone—into context, they amount to $2.75 million per school day, and more than twice the $210 million required to pay STRS COLAs annually. Further, assuming STRS pays fees of 2 percent on total unfunded capital commitments, aka “money for nothing,” this amounts to an annual waste of approximately $143 million—enough to restore the COLA benefit to 2 percent.”
In short, my forensic investigation of STRS Ohio revealed ample evidence to establish that reducing investment fees paid to Wall Street for secretive, esoteric “alternative” investments, such as private equity, hedge, venture and real estate funds (that have massively underperformed well-established passive indices) could easily cover the cost of restoring the COLA benefits. In addition to reducing investment expenses and improving investment performance, shedding costly, secretive alternative investments in favor of passive index funds would also restore much-needed transparency to the pension.
I am accustomed to local media utterly lacking pension expertise regularly failing, for a host of reasons, to grasp and report on complex pension matters. Local reporters are usually generalists and that’s why they are well-advised to interview experts on these matters, as opposed to merely printing assurances from defensive pension officials seeking to protect their fat salaries.
Rest assured, end the Wall Street wealth transfer at Ohio STRS and there will be plenty of money to enhance teacher retirement security by restoring promised COLA benefits.
(Italics in the article indicate emphasis placed by the webmaster.)
I have been called "the Sam Spade of Money Management," “the Financial Watchdog,” "the Pension Detective" and "the Equalizer" for my work pioneering over $1 trillion in forensic investigations of the money management industry. The founder of Benchmark Financial Services, I am a former SEC attorney who, in 2017, I secured the largest SEC whistleblower award in history ($48 million) and in 2018, the largest CFTC award in history ($30 million). I am the co-author of the bestseller, Who Stole My Pension? (with Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad) and the author of How To Steal a Lot of Money--Legally. I am an active member of the Florida Bar.
Newsweek Magazine Spills the Beans on STRS
Mon, Nov 22, 2021
The Secret Is, 'Everybody Gets Rich Except the People Who Put Money In'
BY MATTHEW CUNNINGHAM-COOK, DAILY POSTER ON 11/22/21 AT 5:00 AM EST
In a recent speech to private equity investors, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Gary Gensler said hedge funds and private equity firms must provide far greater transparency about the fees that they are charging their clients.
"More competition and transparency could potentially bring greater efficiencies to this important part of our capital markets," said Gensler, who formerly worked on Wall Street. "This could raise the returns for the pensions and endowments behind the limited partner investors. This ultimately could help workers preparing for retirement and families paying for their college educations."
Efforts to increase transparency and expose the widespread abuses by high flying Wall Street players of the pension funds of teachers, firefighters, cops, and bus drivers could soon be coming to a head in Ohio.
Due to an active group of retirees and the assistance of a former Ohio Attorney General, both the Ohio State Auditor and the Ohio Department of Securities have launched inquiries into the Ohio State Teachers Retirement System (STRS), a $100 billion pension that has launched billions of dollars of investments into the riskier corners of the market, namely private equity and hedge funds.
"Ohio could be the first place where the secrecy surrounding public pensions and their investments in risky, speculative and high-fee investment vehicles could be looked at in a serious way," said Ted Siedle, a former SEC attorney and longtime pension whistleblower.
Pointing out that pension funds across the country have routinely invoked "trade secrets" exemptions to deny the public information about investment performance and fees, Siedle said the actions taken by the state auditor and securities commissioner "could be the beginning of the end" of such secrecy — not just in Ohio, but nationwide.
"Everybody gets rich except the people who put money in." How hedge funds and private equity firms exploit workers' pensions. MARK WILSON/GETTY IMAGES
$8.6 billion in losses
Former Ohio public school teacher Dean Dennis hadn't paid too much attention to what was going on underneath the hood of the Ohio STRS that had paid his modest pension since he retired in 2008, after teaching for 35 years. That changed in 2013, when the fund began to cut the cost of living adjustment (COLA) he had been promised as part of his pension when he retired.
"First they eliminated our COLA for one year, and then reduced it from 3 percent to 2 percent for another three years, and then by 2017, they took the COLA away and it's never been restored," said Dennis.
Outraged, Dennis started two Facebook pages—one public, one private—that now have a combined 24,000 members, all united to hold the Ohio STRS accountable. Along with two other retirees, Dennis launched petitions to restore their lost COLA, and they now have over 50,000 signatures. And with the help of the 19,000-member Ohio Retired Teachers Association, Dennis raised $75,000 to hire Siedle to perform a fiduciary review of the pension fund.
While Siedle told The Daily Poster that he has yet to receive what he considers essential information about the operation of Ohio STRS, he says his review so far has revealed structural problems within the pension fund.
In his report released on June 7, Siedle found that, relative to a benchmark recommended in the last comprehensive performance audit of the fund, the Ohio STRS' $27 billion in investments in private equity, real estate, and hedge funds has cost the pension "$8.6 billion or $2.5 million per trading day for 14 years." On the other hand, according to the report, "Restoring the COLA benefit would cost less than $1 million ($890,000) per day."
The alternative investment industry's "2 and 20" fee mode (2 percent of assets and 20 percent of performance, typically over a threshold rate) can be 10,000 percent higher than the fees paid to low-cost index fund managers, who can charge fees as low as 0.035 percent of invested assets. At the same time, alternative investment funds typically deliver performance that fails to beat the market.
Rudy Fichtenbaum, a board member at STRS with a Ph.D in economics, agreed with Siedle's concerns about the state pension fund. "The pension is going into private equity and other alternatives where they are paying huge fees and taking gigantic risk," he said. He was also troubled by the illiquidity of private equity and alternatives, which make it difficult for pension funds to get their investments back quickly. The process can take years, if it happens at all.
Fichtenbaum added, "Largely the agenda and the narrative [of pension fund board meetings] is really controlled in my observation fairly tightly by the [STRS] staff." According to Fichtenbaum, this arrangement has led the pension staff to " delay any consideration" of reinstituting cost-of-living adjustments, while at the same time receiving $10 million in total bonuses.
It's clear the STRS staff is "very out of touch with retired members," Fichtenbaum said.
The alternative investment industry has always operated under a tight veil of secrecy. Unlike publicly traded companies that have reams of publicly available information filed with the SEC, alternative investments file only a limited set of information. This means that unlike stocks, bonds and mutual funds, there is no publicly verified information about how well these investments perform.
Critical investment questions, like how much risk and debt a specific fund is taking on, are often hidden in closely guarded contracts, offering documents and prospectuses. Alternative investment managers' business contracts are typically not available through public records requests, due to alternative investment managers' assertions of trade secrets privilege and public records exemptions created by state governments.
But such investment information is essential because some alternative investment funds have a habit of going broke. The Dayton Daily News earlier this year investigated the cautionary tale of Panda Power Funds, quoting a STRS spokesperson saying: "From 2011 to 2013, State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio invested $525 million with Panda, but the investment is now valued at zero."
Siedle is working to obtain additional documents from STRS to shed light on its alternative investments—but so far, the process has proven difficult.
"We've asked for documents using industry standard terms, and they're fighting with us about what these terms mean," said former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, who is assisting Siedle in his record requests. "It's mind-boggling for all of us."
Dann expects Siedle to ultimately prevail in seeking the documents.
Dann drew a connection between STRS' conduct and the infamous Coingate scandal, which revealed that Ohio Republican leaders were rewarding campaign contributors through investments made by the Ohio workers compensation fund, including into the highly speculative market of rare coins.
"In the case of Coingate, the investments they chose to make were based on political decisions and rewarding campaign contributors," said Dann. "We think there's a really good chance that that is what is happening here."
Thanks to the efforts of Siedle and Dann, plus the pressure campaigns of energized Ohio retirees, state leaders are finally starting to act. The office of the Ohio State Auditor confirmed to The Daily Poster that an investigation into STRS is active and ongoing, although a spokesperson declined to provide further comment on the matter.
Soon these endeavors could pay off. As Siedle put it, "Ohio could be the first place where this secrecy is lifted."
Robin Rayfield, executive director of the Ohio Retired Teachers Association, agrees it's high time to address the issues facing STRS' investments.
"Everyone gets rich who has any association with STRS," said Rayfield, "except the people who put money in."
STRS in Peril
If you value any of your STRS retirement benefits, then you must review the articles herein and visit the websites listed below. Too much is at risk not to be aware of the disastrous turmoil occurring with in our STRS management. Some investigators and members are already calling for FBI involvement. It is essential for all retired and active educators to be informed on what is happening at STRS and get involved in efforts to preserve our retirement system.
Open Letter to STRS Stakeholders from Wade Stein ( Governor DeWine's Appointee to the STRS Board): https://www.strsohiowatchdogs.com
Subject: Forensic Investigation Of Ohio Teachers’ Pension Reveals Widespread Failures And Mismanagement:
Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum is the AAUP representative to the Healthcare and
Pension Advocates of STRS. His response to latest STRS board meeting
Enough is more than enough - return our COLA.
When was the last time you received an increase in your State Teacher Retirement System (STRS) benefits – a Cost of Living Allowance (COLA)?
For most of you it has been five years or more. And if STRS gets its way, you will never see an increase in your benefits during the rest of your life.
STRS Retirees rely heavily on their promised and earned COLA. It is only through a COLA that we retired teachers can keep up with inflation. STRS Board members and elected officials have broken their promises to us, Ohio's retirees, and have also placed an unfair burden on Ohio's current teachers.
Your COLA is suspended indefinitely. Your STRS Board has stated they will not even discuss our concerns on a COLA again until May, 2022.
ONE WAY ORTA IS WORKING TO RESTORE YOUR COLA
Your Ohio Retired Teacher Association (ORTA) is leading a grassroots effort to conduct a “forensic audit” of STRS Ohio. ORTA has contracted with Edward Siedle, a globally renowned expert in pension audits. Mr. Siedle is a former US Securities and Exchange Commission attorney. His firm, Benchmark Financial Services, has conducted over $1 trillion in pension reviews. (To learn more about Mr. Siedle forensic audits, and the rationale behind our decision to conduct such an audit, you can visit: www.orta.org/advocacy.)
ORTA achieved raising the $75,000 cost of the forensic audit. ORTA acted as the fiscal agent, collecting and accounting for donations to pay the fees associated with this project. All money collected for this audit will be through donations of ORTA members and non ORTA members.
Individual ORTA members and local chapters as well as active educators contributed to this effort. Your Ashland County Retired Teachers Association Executive Board unanimously passed a motion to make a contribution to the forensic audit.
New ORTA members will find a special membership offer there. Renewing members can pay their annual membership fee at the same time.
If you are a friend of a teacher, an active teacher, or a supporter of educational causes, you need to be involved in your retirement system. One of the best ways to do that is through membership in ORTA. See our Joint ACRTA and ORTA page.
Save our Cola
Save our Cola
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