Congressional Hearing on WEP Bill March 22

Mass Retirees Plays Central Role

MARCH 16, 2016: In a major step toward resolving a complex problem we have fought to resolve for more than thirty years, the US House of Representatives will hold a hearing on H.R. 711, known as the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act. H.R. 711 reforms the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) to create a more accurate and fair accounting of credit earned under Social Security.

The hearing before the House Subcommittee on Social Security is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, March 22nd on Capitol Hill. Our Association, which has played a central role in the coalition of states advocating for the passage of H.R. 711 and the formulation of the bill, has been invited to attend Tuesday’s hearing.

Tim Lee, the executive director of the Texas Retired Teachers Association, is our coalition’s point man and will provide verbal testimony at the hearing. Lee and the Texas Retired Teachers have a close relationship with the lead sponsor of H.R. 711, House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX).

In addition to Lee, the AARP and Social Security Administration have been called upon to offer verbal testimony. Our Association has been asked to submit detailed written testimony for the Congressional Record.

“On Monday, our Association’s Legislative Director Shawn Duhamel and I will travel to Washington, DC to join our colleagues from Texas and Ohio in preparation for Tuesday’s hearing. Tim Lee is the perfect voice to represent our coalition before the Committee,” says Association President Frank Valeri. “Not only is Tim close to Chairman Brady, but he also maintains an excellent relationship with Texas Congressman Sam Johnson, chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee.

“We have built an excellent national coalition of groups impacted by the WEP and GPO that have kept this issue on the proverbial radar screen of Congress and got us to the point where our members may finally see tangible relief.”

“A great amount of credit needs to go to Congressman Richie Neal and our Massachusetts delegation. All nine of our Congressmen are cosponsors of H.R. 711. And the work that Mike Capuano and Jim McGovern have put into this issue for many years, as members of leadership, cannot be overstated. We would not be where we are at today without their dedication,” said Duhamel, who has spearheaded this issue for the Association for more than twenty years.

What to Expect Next

Unlike the Massachusetts’ legislative system, where every bill must receive a public hearing, the Congressional rules place the hearing schedule at the discretion of the majority party leadership – in this case Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and his leadership team. With thousands of proposals pending before Congress each year, few issues are addressed through the public hearing process.

In addition to the hearing, a great deal of work has taken place behind the scenes over the past two years to build support for the bill’s eventual passage. The first major step was the assembly of a true national coalition of impacted states, followed by the recruitment of Brady and Neal as the lead Republican and Democrat sponsors.

Next was the work done by the Social Security Administration to help formulate the structure of the new benefit, as well as identify a funding source. Social Security, as well as the Obama Administration, have since certified the proposal contained within H.R. 711 as cost neutral.

In recent months, Mass Retirees and the Retired Texas Teachers have led the national effort to gain support for the proposal among the various interest groups. This effort paid-off just last week with the announcement of support for H.R. 711 by the AARP.

“Assuming the hearing goes well and we continue to build momentum, the next step will be the “mark up” of H.R. 711 to be favorably released from the Social Security Committee and brought to the House floor for a vote. Ideally, this will happen before the Congressional summer recess,” explains Duhamel. “From there the proposal goes to the US Senate. Thankfully, all indications are that if we get the bill to President Obama he will sign it into law. But there is a lot of work that remains to be done between now and then if we are to be successful in 2016.”

If passed this year, members currently affected by the WEP would see their Social Security benefits recalculated in 2017. While the amount of the increase will vary between retirees, depending on the number of years paid into Social Security, the average Social Security benefit would increase by roughly $100 to $125 per month.

While H.R. 711 currently focuses on the WEP, there is now talk of also addressing the Government Pension Offset. As previously reported, the President has filed legislation reforming both the WEP and GPO within his 2017 federal budget proposal.

Since the GPO only impacts spousal Social Security benefits, the law disproportionately affects women.

“Members suffering from the hardship created by the GPO should know that we are doing all we can to fight for this issue to be addressed alongside WEP reform. It is important that everyone be treated fairly and not suffer from these arbitrary reductions,” adds Valeri.

See below for official statements on H.R. 711 from Congressmen Kevin Brady and Richard Neal, along with the Social Security Subcommittee.