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Senate committee axes 13th check for public retirees as debate continues

Ryan Mishler, seen in profile, on the Senate floor, with his chin resting on his hand. Mishler is a White man with dark hair, wearing a suit and tie.
Brandon Smith
IPB News
Sen. Ryan Mishler (R-Mishawaka) argued that providing public pension retirees with a 13th check this year will prolong a permanent solution to providing enhanced benefits to those retirees.

Tens of thousands of public pension recipients in Indiana would not get a one-time increase in their benefits this year after a change in a Senate committee Thursday.

The House and Senate have long disagreed over whether to provide retirees with a COLA — annual cost of living adjustment — or a 13th check, an additional benefit between $150 and $450, based on years of service.

One bill this session, SB 275, would permanently solve that dispute by providing a 13th check for anyone who retired before July 1, 2025 and a COLA for everyone who retires on or after that date.

But that doesn’t solve the issue that, in last year’s budget, the pension disagreement left retirees with nothing — no COLA or 13th check. The House pushed a bill, HB 1004, to make up for that this year, providing a 13th check.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Ryan Mishler (R-Mishawaka) and his fellow Republicans on the panel eliminated that provision Thursday.

“If you do a 13th check, you’re going to prolong the permanent fix,” Mishler said.

Money for benefit enhancements comes from a Supplemental Reserve Account, SRA, that is funded through surcharges paid by public employers. There’s more than $200 million in the SRA right now, and a 13th check this year would cost around $60 million.

READ MORE: How do I follow Indiana’s legislative session? Here’s your guide to demystify the process

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Mishler said a COLA is more expensive than a 13th check, so those employers will already have to pay an increased surcharge once the permanent fix takes effect.

“If you do … the 13th check this year and try to implement that next year, you’d have to raise that so high on them to get the dollar amount up there, it wouldn’t be feasible,” Mishler said.

But Jessica Love, executive director of the Retired Indiana Public Employees Association, said both short-term support and a long-term solution are possible.

“Money is not an issue. The budget is not an issue,” Love said. “But retirees barely able to make ends meet, or being totally unable to make ends meet, is an issue.”

Mishler said discussions on the issue will continue.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.