Commentary: California's retired state employees shouldn't reap double benefits

Retired public employees who've returned to their old jobs can save state and local governments a ton of money when they come back to work part time. They have the skill and the experience to do the job but because they're retired, employers don't have to pay their retirement and health benefits.

But as The Bee's Robert Lewis reported last week, there is a hidden cost for rehiring retirees. When such workers are laid off, some can and do collect unemployment benefits, benefits paid entirely by their government employers – taxpayers. Unemployment costs put additional strain on local and state governments at a time they are reeling from a down economy and drastically reduced revenues. When unemployment checks are going to workers who already receive often very generous pensions from the same government employer, they become hard to defend.

The number of government retirees who double dip in this manner is unknown. No one keeps track of retired government workers who return to their old jobs part time, are laid off and then file for unemployment benefits.

Reporter Lewis was able to determine that Sacramento County paid 53 former sheriff's deputies more than $300,000 in unemployment benefits from 2009 through March of this year. Those unemployment payouts could have funded two full-time deputies for a year.

There is nothing illegal about this practice. Government workers, like private sector retirees, can collect unemployment when they are laid off from part-time post-retirement jobs. But unlike private employers, governments do not pay into an unemployment insurance fund. Unemployment benefits that Sacramento or Placer counties, the city of Roseville or the state of California pays come directly out of already seriously depleted county funds.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.sacbee.com.