Coalition Seeks Relief From Social Security's Government Pension Offset Law

JULY 1999 - No
doubt, mandatory Social Security has been front and center the past few
months. But that doesn't mean that work on other Social Security
issues, affecting Mass retirees, has been halted.

Most notable is the continuing effort to provide relief from Social
Security's government pension offset (GPO) law. Briefly, the GPO does
not affect all public retirees who apply for spousal benefits from
Social Security, but does impact those seeking spousal benefits, who
become eligible for their public pensions after June 30, 1983 or fail
to satisfy other specific criteria under the federal law.

If
a public pensioner is subject to the GPO, then his or her SS spousal
benefits will be reduced, dollar for dollar, by two-thirds of their
public pension, which may result in zero SS benefits being actually
paid out. Estimates place the number of public retirees (federal, state
and local), whose Social Security benefits are currently reduced by the
GPO, at 266,000.

Recently, the
nationwide Coalition to Assure Retirement Equity (CARE), to which the
Association belongs, and US. Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) announced
the introduction by the congressman of H.R. 1217. The bill currently
has 143 co-sponsors, including Representatives Capuano, Delahunt,
Frank, McGovern, Moakley and Olver from the Mass delegation.

H.R.
1217 would eliminate the GPO for public retirees whose pension and
spousal Social Security benefits are $1,200 or less. If the pension and
Social Security amounts exceed $1,200, then the two-thirds reduction,
called for under the current law, is figured on the amount over $1,200.

Other
features of H.R. 1217 include an escalator clause so that the $1,200
limit rises with inflation. There is also a provision to insure that no
retiree receives less Social Security than under the present GPO law.

According
to the Coalition, H.R. 117 is in the House Ways and Means Committee
Social Security Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. E. Clay Shaw (R-FL). In
the US Senate, a companion bill (S.717) has been introduced by Senator
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and now is in the Senate Finance Committee.

Members Hurt by GPO Increasing

"We
joined this coalition back in '97 because members, particularly widows,
were being hurt financially by the GPO." states Legislative Chairman
Bill Hill."The numbers affected are unfortunately increasing." Here's just one example.

Jeanne
Young, a retired state employee living in Revere and a member of our
Association, worked for the Dept. of Correction. She receives a $860
monthly pension from the Commonwealth. Her deceased husband, a retired
carpenters' union member, was receiving $970 a month from Social
Security.

"Tom passed away in '81
and I began to receive his social security in '96, shortly before I
retired from Correction," reports Young. "Only a few months after I
retired from the state, I was shocked to receive a letter from the feds
telling me I had to pay them back $1,700 and expect to receive a little
over $300 (because of the GPO)."

If
she was not subject to the GPO, she, like most widows, would be
entitled to 100% of her deceased husband's SS benefits ($970). Instead,
because of the GPO, she only gets about $370 a month in Social Security
benefits as a surviving wife - over $7,200 less each year. From that,
$45.50 is deducted monthly for Medicare.

"I
can't describe how devastated I was when I learned about the GPO," says
Young. "I probably would not have retired from the state if I knew then
what a huge chunk would be taken out of my (Social Security) check."

If
H.R. 1217 was passed, she would get $550 in monthly Social Security
spousal benefits. That's well over one and half times her present
benefit - which would be a good start in the right direction.

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