Social Security Update

Social Security Update
Congressman Kevin Brady (R-Texas)

Association Attends WEP Summit

July 2014 Voice: Earlier this year we reported that our Association had launched a new approach toward reforming Social Security’s Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO).

Working with the Washington D.C. advocacy firm Lussier, Gregor, Vienna and Associates (LGVA) our Association has spearheaded a new national effort to bring relief to those retirees impacted by either the WEP or GPO laws. This strategy involves working with a small group of well-organized retiree groups from California, Ohio and Texas – key states that are also severely impacted by the WEP and GPO.

This revised effort has shown early signs of optimism in the form of a Capitol Hill meeting with the House Subcommittee on Social Security, led by Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX). Brady, who is a ranking member of the House Republican Leadership, has been a leading advocate for reform of the WEP law.

At the behest of Brady, the Subcommittee is examining an evolving proposal that could lead to action in the US House later this year. While still in the early stages and not yet drafted into a bill form, the focus centers on altering the WEP formula in order to make the impact less severe on public retirees.

“While visiting Washington with Shawn Duhamel in January, it became obvious to us that we needed to find a new approach. By bringing together a small group of activists, we’re creating what we hope to be an effective grassroots national effort,” explains Association President Frank Valeri. “We’re also fortunate to be working with Tom Lussier and his team at LGVA. Being the former director of the Mass. Teachers’ Retirement System, Tom has a total grasp how our pension systems work and can explain things clearly to the policy makers in DC.”

The recent meeting on the WEP was put together with the help of the Texas Retired Teachers Association and their Executive Director Tim Lee. Details of Representative Brady’s plan are not yet known, as the Committee staff is analyzing various scenarios.

“Our largest hurdle continues to be cost. Congress has very stringent requirements in terms of identifying funding sources for policy proposals. Even a modest reform of the WEP law would cost billions,” said Duhamel. “However, Rep. Brady seems to believe that there are ways to address the cost. We’ll see what develops.”

GPO Not Forgotten

While the current efforts spearheaded by House Republicans focus exclusively on the WEP, Association officials have not forgotten the issue of the GPO. Nor has the 11-member Massachusetts Congressional delegation.

As is the case with the WEP, the GPO is also not likely to be fully repealed. Therefore, alternative approaches must be pursued.

Unlike the WEP reform, which enjoys fairly wide bipartisan support in the House, the GPO is a far harder sell with the Republican majority. Conservative lawmakers point to the original intent of the spousal benefit, which was to provide a retirement income for stay-at-home women.

Opponents of repealing the GPO argue that non Social Security retirees are receiving a public pension as their source of retirement income and, therefore, should not also receive a spousal benefit.

In an attempt at a compromise to help modest income retirees, former Congressman Barney Frank promoted the idea of changing the structure of the GPO to provide a benefit based on need. Under his proposal, a retiree’s pension and Social Security benefit are combined to show one’s total income.

For example, if the combined benefit were less than $2,000 a month then there would be no offset. Essentially, the GPO would be altered to become a means test.
Congressman Richard Neal and Maine’s Senior Senator Susan Collins have each expressed interest in taking a similar approach. However, to date no concrete proposal has been advanced.

“We are working with folks like Richie Neal, Mike Capuano, Bill Keating and Elizabeth Warren on a viable solution to the GPO. This is something that will develop along side of the WEP reform. Hopefully we can advance both together,” says Duhamel.