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PERS will ask Legislature for cash, consider changes to ’13th check’



Mississippi Public Employee Retirement System will ask the for a cash infusion during the 2024 .

The board of trustees for the public pension plan is “seeking a cash infusion or direct appropriation from the Legislature,” PERS Executive Director Ray Higgins said in emailed response to questions from .

The rare cash infusion request is one of a litany of proposals board members plan to offer to the Legislature in an attempt to ensure the financial viability of the public pension plan, which provides retirement for most and local government employees, including public school teachers.

Normally the Legislature does not direct appropriations to PERS. Instead, it is supported by governmental entities paying 17.4% of payroll for each employee. In addition, employees pay 9% of their payroll into the system, and the system also receives investment earnings.

In recent years, efforts have been made to improve the system's financial viability that has been negatively impacted by multiple factors, including a decrease in the number of government employees. A reduction in the public sector workforce means less funds for the system.


PERS is providing or will provide benefits to about 325,000 members, including current employees, retirees and others who used to work in the public sector but no longer do.

It is not clear how much cash the PERS board might ask the Legislature to consider pumping into the program.

“Officially, yet to be decided,” Higgins said of the amount of money the board will request. “However, it could and likely will be a general request for and consideration of a new or dedicated (continuing on a yearly basis) revenue stream. It will also likely include a request for direct appropriations and/or funding for the estimated costs associated with the benefit increases from the late 90s and early 2000s.”

Higgins has said that money was never provided to pay for the enhanced benefits that were provided to PERS beneficiaries in the 1990s and 2000s.


The request would be made at a time the Legislature is flush with funds, thanks in large part to a major rush of federal money. The state had about $3 billion in reserves before the 2023 session and still has well over $1 billion.

According to a study by the Pew Charitable Trust, the Mississippi pension plan would need an additional $1.4 billion to reach its “net amortization benchmark,” which is the amount needed to prevent the plan's unfunded liabilities from increasing. The system's current funding ratio is about 61%, meaning it has the assets to pay the benefits of 61% of all the people in the system, ranging from the newest hires to those already retired. Of course, all of the people in the system will not retire at once. Theoretically, though, it is recommended that retirement have a funding ratio of 80% or more.

The system has $30 billion in assets and is underfunded by about $20 billion.

During an August meeting, the PERS board also voted to propose a new benefits structure for new hires. Details of what the new benefit structure would look like are still being contemplated, but it could include a new method of providing cost of living adjustments instead of the current system, where a 3% cost of living adjustment is guaranteed each year. The change to the COLA would be for new employees only.


Another recommendation could be a change to the payout method for the cost of living increase for future employees.

Under the current system, many people take the annual 3% cost of living increase as one lump sum payment at the end of the year, often referred to as “the 13th check.” The PERS board recommendation is to make the default choice for retirees to the cost of living increase divvied up as part of their monthly retirement checks. The employees would have to request specifically for the cost of living increase to be paid as a 13th check instead of monthly.

Changing the payout method from a lump sum to monthly for the annual cost of living increases would not result in less money for retirees, but it would give more flexibility to the system since it would not be taxed with paying the entire total at one time at the end of the year.

The board did vote to increase the employer contribution rate for each employee by 2% starting with the new fiscal year in July. This means the employer contribution rate would increase to 19.40% of payroll in July.


The board anticipates additional increases in the employer contribution rates in coming years with a possible projection of a rate of more than 27% of payroll.

“This potential future employer contribution rate will be updated in subsequent actuarial reports (typically presented each December) beginning with the next one for the state fiscal year ending June 30, 2023,” Higgins said.

The board has sole authority to increase the employer contribution rate, but it is up to the Legislature and local governmental entities to find the funds to pay for the increases or to cut other services to provide the funds.

It is estimated the total cost of the 2% increase to all governmental entities is $138 million per year.


The board was considering increasing the employer contribution rate earlier, but delayed the increase after an outcry by legislative leaders during the 2023 session. At that time, Higgins committed to providing the Legislature with recommendations from the board to help with the system's long-term financial viability.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mississippi Today

Legislators passed a bill that promised millions to hospitals. Months later, apparently only a third qualify.



Months after the passed a law directing millions to Mississippi's struggling hospitals, not one has received that money, and far fewer than predicted will receive any money at all. 

That's because lawmakers erred in writing the statute, according to State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney.

Legislators in February established the Mississippi Hospital Sustainability Grant Program, which was supposed to disseminate $103 million in grant money to hospitals via the state Health Department. Despite a record state budget surplus, it was millions less than the state hospital association had asked for, but hospital leaders agreed it would help keep them afloat.

However, somewhere in the legislative , the source of the funds was changed from the state's general fund to federal relief dollars, which with regulations. Because many of the state's hospitals have already claimed some form of pandemic relief funds, those hospitals are ineligible for the money – an issue that lawmakers apparently did not consider.

“Unfortunately, you picked the wrong pot of money,” Edney told legislators at a Joint Legislative Budget Committee meeting on Sept. 29.


But lawmakers are placing the blame back on the Health Department, which was awarded $700,000 to disburse the money. 

“Effectively you're cutting out two-thirds of the hospitals,” Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said.

“I'm not cutting out any,” Edney refuted. “The program is cutting out two-thirds.”

A spokesperson for the Mississippi State Health Department confirmed to Mississippi Today that 75 hospitals, about two-thirds of the state's hospitals, have applied for the money.


Edney said at the meeting that only half of those facilities will receive anything.

Rep. Trey Lamar, a Republican from Senatobia, asked for a list of hospitals eligible to receive the money. Edney said it was “at the office,” before clarifying a few minutes later that he'd asked agency auditors and accountants to make an official document explaining the program and its challenges and would soon provide that to lawmakers.

When asked by Mississippi Today about the previously referenced “list,” Edney would not provide it and said it was still “fluid.”

“Let me be clear: Are you announcing to the public today that the hospitals, as it stands now, are not going to be awarded these funds we put in place?” Lamar asked. “Do the hospitals know this yet?”

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia responds to criticism during his call for support from lawmakers to pass the controversial House Bill 1020 on Friday, March 31, 2023, at the Capitol in Jackson. (AP /Rogelio V. Solis)

Edney replied that he has been talking to hospital CEOs “one by one.”

Paul Black, the recently retired CEO of Winston Medical Center in Louisville, told Mississippi Today in May that he was disappointed in the failures of the grant program's appropriations bill.

“Most everybody knows the ,” he said.

The challenges of the program apparently came as to the legislators, though.

Lamar, the chairman of the powerful House committee that deals with tax policy, and Hosemann, who announced a broad plan during this year's to help the state's failing rural hospitals that included this grant program, appeared especially frustrated.


“As recently as a month or two (after the session), I contacted your office and it was 85% (of hospitals) were gonna qualify,” Hosemann said. “So this has been some administrative change that we were not aware of either during the session or shortly thereafter.”

Lamar, too, questioned why these issues were coming up months after the program's inception. The governor signed the bill in April.

“There was no secret what we were working on,” he said.

Edney maintained that the Health Department brought up concerns about the source of the money during the legislative process.


“Believe me, Mr. Chairman, I'm extremely frustrated with this,” Edney told Lamar.

Edney gave the lawmakers a few options.

They could wait to distribute funds after fixing the program when the 2024 Legislative session starts in January, or they could activate the program now and send out the money to the roughly 38 hospitals that qualify. Edney also claimed there was a way to get the federal funds to all hospitals, but the current statute would have to be changed to do that.

Hosemann previously told Mississippi Today that he would support legislation at the beginning of the next session to make up the difference between what hospitals were supposed to get and what they actually got from the program.


Edney's recommendation at the meeting was to dole out the money to the hospitals that are eligible because of the state's dire health crisis. Those hospitals report losses upwards of half a billion dollars, he said.

One report puts nearly half of the state's rural hospitals at risk of closure. At least one hospital has already closed this year, and several have applied for a federal designation that would slash services in order for more money. He said many more hospitals are reducing the services they offer to cut costs.

But Edney was adamant that he could not make the final call.

“Y'all need to make that decision,” he said. “I need to be given direction.


“The heartburn for me is I know activating the program as it stands is not what y'all intended,” Edney told the committee, before Hosemann cut him off, asking for data from the agency to make an informed decision about what to do next.

Edney still hasn't been told what to do, he said in an interview with Mississippi Today on Tuesday.

“I know that (the Legislature's) desire is to get to hospitals the quickest way that they can,” he said. “The options are before them and they'll decide. They're still evaluating information being given.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Mississippi Today

Secretary of state candidates outline platforms at forum



Incumbent Republican Secretary of State Michael Watson said he's cut red tape for businesses, worked with lawmakers to make elections more secure and will push for major campaign finance reform if reelected.

Democratic challenger Ty Pinkins said Mississippi's trails most of the rest of the country, and Watson had many years as a state senator before his four as secretary of state to champion campaign finance reform but didn't.

The two candidates spoke and fielded questions at the Stennis Institute of 's Capitol Press Corps Luncheon on Monday. The forum was billed as “non-debate format,” and the candidates took the podium and spoke and answered questions in turns.

“I think Mississippi deserves a better choice on the ballot this November,” said Pinkins, a late entry into the race, replacing the former Democratic nominee who dropped out for health reasons. “… I'm running for secretary of state because I've been all over this state and people in Mississippi are ready for someone to lead. The problem is we have the wrong people in some of these offices … Mississippi is still near last economically because of the failed policies implemented by .”

Watson itemized numerous accomplishments in his first term, including registration of more than 250,000 new voters, working with lawmakers to prevent “ballot harvesting” and making machines more secure. He said his office has streamlined business services and cut red tape.


“Despite what you may hear from some of my (media) friends here , it's a great time to be a voter in Mississippi,” Watson said.

Both candidates vow to reform Mississippi's weak, often unenforced campaign finance laws and reporting.

Watson said his office has a request for proposals out on a new computer system, and will work with the to create a publicly searchable campaign finance data system like most other states have. He has said he would push for his office to take over enforcement of campaign finance violations since no one else appears interested and said he has already been meeting with legislative on other reforms.

Pinkins said he also would work to make campaign finance reports transparent and searchable.


“Our campaign finance reporting system is broken, and it didn't just break last , it's been broken a long, long time,” Pinkins said. He said he also would push for online voter registration, no-excuse early voting and same-day voter registration on election day.

Both candidates are attorneys.

Watson, 45, from , served in the state Senate from 2008 to 2020. He ran his own law firm, focusing on business, construction and probate law.

Pinkins, 49, from Vicksburg, is a decorated U.S. Army veteran who served three combat tours, a former White House communications aide and former lawyer with the .


This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Mississippi Today

Mississippi has one of the country’s highest rates of people without health insurance



Mississippi is one of the most uninsured states in America, according to new data.

The U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, released last month, shows that in 2022, Mississippi had one of the highest percentages of people without health insurance coverage in the country, along with Alaska, Wyoming, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida.

States in the South had some of the highest uninsured rates, according to the survey.

The same survey showed that Mississippi has the fifth highest uninsurance rate among working age people from 19 to 64. Only Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia and Wyoming have worse uninsurance rates.


Another Census survey, the Household Pulse survey, conducted from Aug. 23 to Sept. 4 shows Mississippi had the highest level of uninsurance among working age people during that time frame. Almost every one in five ages 18-64, or 20.44%, likely didn't have insurance, according to a Mississippi Today analysis of the data.

It also shows that during that period 16.9%, or about one in six Mississippians of all ages, were uninsured. That's an increase from 14.7% in March, according to the State Health Access Data Assistance Center, though a researcher from the center said the latter survey's results should be carefully considered.

The Household Pulse survey can be used to monitor trends and data, but Robert Hest, a senior research fellow at the center, said it shouldn't be used to draw definitive conclusions because of its short data collection period and low response rate.

The American Community Survey is more reliable, he said.


“We would be very surprised to see that Mississippi has the nation's highest rate of uninsurance,” he said. “Mississippi's uninsured rate, though often among the highest, is typically lower than uninsured rates in other states such as Texas, Florida and Georgia.”

According to the American Community Survey, Mississippi's total uninsured rate was 10.8% and its uninsured rate among people aged 19 to 64 was 16.4% in 2022.

The new data comes as states across the country the eligibility of beneficiaries for the first time in three years. During the pandemic, Medicaid divisions were prohibited from removing anyone from their rolls. Those regulations ended in May.


So far, almost 70,000 people have been kicked off Medicaid in Mississippi — most of them because of paperwork issues, not eligibility. Many of the people who have been disenrolled are .

From March to September, Mississippi's overall Medicaid coverage decreased from 19.8% to 16.7%, the survey also shows.

State Health Officer Dr. Dan Edney said health insurance saved his — and cost him his father's.

Edney's father, who didn't have health insurance, died at 56 of colon cancer, a preventable disease, he said. At 47, Edney underwent a screening that detected premalignant polyps – a discovery he credits to insurance and access to preventative care.


“I want all Mississippians to have the same access to life-saving screenings that I have, but too many are dying young as my father did,” he said.

Mississippi's high uninsured rate is costing hospitals, too.

As the state's health crisis continues, uncompensated care costs — the money hospitals lose caring for uninsured — are putting further burden on hospitals.

Uncompensated care costs for Mississippi hospitals have hovered around $600 million a year. According to one study, Medicaid expansion would cut Mississippi hospitals' uncompensated care by an average of $251.6 million a year from 2020-2030.


One puts almost half of the state's hospitals at risk of closing.

Gov. Tate Reeves recently announced a plan to help bring more money to hospitals, but reiterated his opposition to Medicaid expansion at the same press conference.

His plan will likely keep some hospitals open for longer, but it won't insure more Mississippians. That means uninsured people in Mississippi will generally have to continue to rely on the emergency room for their medical care — emergency rooms cannot turn away patients, though doctor's offices and pharmacies can.

“Investing in our hospitals is critically important, and we need to help uninsured Mississippians have access to our hospitals, especially outpatient services, which are critically important for improving poor health outcomes,” Edney said. “Without appropriate access to preventive services, it will be difficult to improve our extremely poor health outcomes.”


Alex Rozier contributed to this report.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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