Social Security Overhaul

SEPTEMBER 2004
- Slow, Yet Steady, Progress - Progress on the legislative front can often be measured in inches, as
the wheels of government slowly move forward. For the thousands of
Association members, affected by the Government Pension Offset (GPO)
and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) laws, the legislative process
may best be described as frustrating and at times simply painful.

For
Association lobbyists, whose job is to advocate on behalf of public
retirees, the path towards legislative success is often marked with
difficult obstacles which must be overcome.

One
of the hardest and most complex issues that the Association has faced
during its 36-year history is the effort to repeal both the GPO and WEP
laws. Affecting some five million public retirees/employees across the
country and carrying an estimated cost of $65 billion over ten years,
the repeal of these two regressive Social Security laws is finally
gaining support in Congress.

As of
press time in early August, progress was being made on several key
fronts relating to both the WEP and GPO. The letters, phone calls and
emails, that members have been sending to the Congress on this issue,
are beginning to have an impact.

"I
can understand how frustrating this process is to our members who are
losing thousands of dollars a year. We've been pushing hard to repeal
these laws for years," says Association President Ralph White. "Many
new members were still working and completely unaware these laws even
existed, while at the same time the Association was already fighting
this battle.

"When retirees first
learn that they are going to lose all or part of their expected Social
Security benefit, it's quite a shock. I know that results have been
slow coming, but we are not going to give up until our members get what
they have earned."

Rare July Hearing

One
of the key players in the saga to repeal the WEP/GPO is Florida
Congressman E. Clay Shaw (R-Ft. Lauderdale). As the powerful chairman
of the Subcommittee on Social Security, he is the gatekeeper as to what
bill, if any, will ultimately be voted on by the House.

Shaw,
who is also a key member of the House Leadership, is on record
supporting a revised Social Security formula that would lessen the
reduction for retirees who fall victim to the WEP. As reported in the
July Voice, Shaw's proposal (H.R. 4391) repeals the current WEP law and
replaces it with a system that calculates one's benefit based on the
percentage of time, spent working in a job that paid into Social
Security, during their entire work history including one's public
service.

After being barraged by
both his Florida constituents and retirees from across the country,
Shaw held a public hearing on his bill in late July - somewhat of a
rarity for a summer leading up to a fall election. A handful of
organizations from around the country, as well as a deputy commissioner
from the Social Security Administration (SSA), were invited to testify
before the Social Security Sub Committee.

While
the organizations, as a whole, deemed H.R. 4391 a good "first step", a
compelling case was made as to why a full repeal of the WEP is a more
appropriate goal. This position is similar to that taken by our
Association on this legislation, which calls for the restoration of
one's full Social Security benefit.

Unlike
H.R. 594 (full WEP/GPO repeal), Shaw's proposal only restores a portion
of the monthly benefit reduced by the WEP. In most cases, a retiree,
who is collecting Social Security under their own work history, would
still receive less than 50% of the benefit that had been reduced. This
would leave members with Social Security benefits still reduced by
several hundred dollars each month.

"Members,
who have contacted us, have been crystal clear on how they feel. To a
person, they believe that Mr. Shaw's bill does not go far enough," said
Association Legislative Liaison Shawn Duhamel. "The people, being hurt
by the WEP, would still be hurting even if H.R. 4391 were to pass. It
simply does not go far enough in restoring the lost benefits."

An
interesting development to come out of the hearing on July 20, followed
the testimony offered by the SSA. Apparently, the records needed to
determine one's benefit under H.R. 4391 only date back to 1978.
According to Deputy Director Martin Gerry, the SSA has therefore
determined that the revised Social Security formula that would be
established under Shaw's proposal is unworkable without the records
before 1978.

"It's great that Mr.
Shaw is exploring possible solutions to the problem. However, it is our
hope that instead of creating complicated new formulas, the Committee
begins to focus on a very simple repeal of the law," added Duhamel.

Tags: