Puerto Rico’s Pension System: Knocking on Heaven’s Door

This post was originally published on January 27, 2011.

Introduction

The Employees Retirement System of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (the “ERS”) is a trust created by Act 447 of May 15, 1951 to provide pension and other benefits to retired employees of the government of Puerto Rico and its instrumentalities. According to the Management’s Discussion and Analysis included in the ERS’s most recent financial statements, the system “since its inception lacked proper planning.”1 The problem was (and to a certain extent still is) that the level of both employer and employee contributions was relatively low and was not actuarially determined, while the level of benefits was statutorily defined and bore no relation to employee contributions or to the investment yield of the systems assets.

In 1973 the benefit structure was “enhanced” without enacting a corresponding increase in contribution levels. As government employment increased in the mid-to-late 1970s, partially in response to the general economic slowdown, the gap between the assets available to pay benefits and the actuarial obligation began to widen.

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Puerto Rico’s Retirement Problem

Yesterday, Moody’s Investors Service issued a press release announcing it was downgrading the Commonwealth’s of Puerto Rico A3 rating to Baa1. Its decision was partly based on the weak funding of the government’s pension plans and the “significant strain that future pension requirements will likely exert on the Commonwealth’s financial position.”

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