California employees can receive retirement benefits from one of three funds: CalPERS, the University of California Retirement Plan and CalSTRS. Benefits can include lifetime monthly income for members or their survivors, disability benefits and continuation of health insurance. A research report published in 2010 concluded that poor investment performance of California retirement plans has created escalating shortfalls that could jeopardize obligations to retirees and affect the state's overall financial health.
According to CalSTRS, nearly 850,000 community college and primary and secondary school teachers hold membership in its retirement fund. CalSTRS members can retire as early as age 50, and the fund pays benefits in three categories: retirement benefits after service, death benefits for survivors and member disability benefits. The fund bases retirement benefits on service credit, age at retirement and the member's final earnings at retirement. The program defines “service credit” as the number of full-time years of service a member accumulates while working. Survivors of members can receive benefits when a member dies after or before retirement, and members can receive benefits for physical or mental impairment that prevents them from performing their work duties.
University of California Retirement Plan
Employees of the University of California system can receive retirement benefits through the University of California Retirement Plan (UCRP). The plan pays lifetime income benefits for retirees, survivor death benefits and benefits for disabled members. Factors used to calculate pension payments include the member's highest average earnings, accumulated service credit and the retiree's age. UCRP members can retire after accumulating 5 years of service credit and eligible members can retire at age 50. Member's survivors can receive lifetime monthly income ranging from 25 to 50 percent of the member's calculated retirement income. UCRP members can also take a lump sum payment at retirement, which requires forfeiting survivor benefits and continuance of health benefits.
According to CalPERS, its fund covers retirement benefits for more than 1.5 million California public employees. The plan offers benefits for service retirement, non-job-related disabilities and job-related disabilities. CalPERS calculates monthly retirement income based on final earnings, age at retirement and accumulated service credit. CalPERS benefit plans can vary, depending on the member's employer, which can include public agencies, schools and emergency services agencies. Plans also allow for benefit payments to survivors, in the event a member dies after or before retirement.
Retirement Fund Crisis
The Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research issued a report in April 2010, which Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commissioned to determine the financial condition of the state's retirement funds. According to the report, retirement funds lost nearly $110 billion in combined portfolio value during the fiscal year beginning June 2008 and ending June 2009. The report stated that California faced a severe shortfall, which could increase to more than $500 billion by 2016, affecting the state's overall financial health and the ability of retirement funds to meet pension obligations. The Stanford report concluded that the state must change contribution policies, asset management and benefit levels to avoid further escalation of pension shortfalls.
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