KTRS survivor benefits bill passes House, goes to Senate

FRANKFORT—Legislation that would let spouses of deceased public school teachers continue to receive survivor benefits if they remarry has passed the state House.

House Bill 172, sponsored by Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, would only apply to spouses who had been married at least five years to a teacher or someone who was vested in the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. It would basically provide a surviving spouse with benefits that have already been earned, Nelson explained.

“Let’s say that you have a teacher who is 51 years old and has 21 years of service. That teacher unexpectedly passes away,” said Nelson. “Under that scenario, the spouse would receive $180 a month until the (deceased spouse) would have turned 55. At that time, the survivor benefit is recalculated… That spouse would receive that (benefit) for the rest of his or her life except if they get married. If they get married they get zero.”

“This is what this would try to correct,” he said.

The requirement that the couple be married at least five years before a surviving spouse could be eligible to retain benefits should they remarry was added to the bill with approval of a floor amendment sponsored by Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville. Montell said the five-year qualifier matches the time it takes an employee to become vested in KTRS, or five years.

“I do think there needs to be qualifier,” Montell said, harkening the House’s attention to the years after the Civil War when Montell said young women would often marry much older men with a war pension.

“As they aged, we saw young women attracted to those aging men and many married those Civil War veterans for their benefits and the government paid benefits for the rest of those young ladies’ lives,” said Montell.

There are currently 459 surviving spouses receiving KTRS survivor benefits who would lose those benefits if they remarry, KTRS officials say. It is unclear how many of those would meet the requirement of having been married five or more years as proposed by HB 172.

HB 172 passed the House 93-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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