Taking Issue With Fed Over GPO/WEP

JULY 06 - Social Security Justifies Laws - Association officials, along with representatives from other non Social Security states, strongly took issue with the remarks of a Social Security Administration official, which seemed to justify the existence of the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) laws.

The comments came during a breakout seminar conducted by the Social Security Administration at the annual conference of the National Conference of Public Employee Retirement Systems (NCPERS) in May. NCPERS, which is the largest nationwide organization of its kind, represents all public retirement systems across the country.

While the conference focused on a wide variety of retirement and pension fund issues, those states involved on the frontlines of the GPO/WEP battle (CA, CO, IL, LA, OH, TX, and MA) used the time to focus on a joint grassroots strategy.

For the 160 conferees crammed into the Tuesday afternoon breakout session, the expectation was to gain knowledge from Social Security officials as to how the current law works, along with some pointers on how it may be reformed. Even though the Administration did provide valuable actuarial data, it was delivered in a negative tone that left many conferees upset.

“From the moment the presentation began, it was obvious to those in the room that the Social Security Administration officials were not in favor of repealing the GPO and WEP laws. The underlying tone seemed to indicate that the official position is that these laws are somehow fair and just,” said Norfolk County Treasurer Joseph Connolly. “It is one thing to have a policy debate with political leaders, but in our view a government agency should be neutral. When people talk about how Washington can be out of touch, this is the type of attitude they have in mind.”

Association President Ralph White, who was also in attendance at the meeting, was equally insulted. “It was obvious from the presentation that the Social Security Administration has no idea how badly the GPO and WEP laws are hurting retirees. They completely miss the point that our members earn these benefits, in many cases by working multiple jobs,” commented White. “To have them (Social Security) running around the country downplaying the importance of a repeal is counterproductive and just plain wrong.”

Legislative Impact

To date, most of the actuarial reports that Congress relies upon to determine the financial impact of a full repeal of the GPO and WEP have been provided by the Social Security Administration.

In addition to the Congressional Budget Office, congressional leaders rely upon the various government agencies to provide detailed and accurate analysis of various legislation. The hope is that the reports will be neutral in terms of potential political or public policy interests.“

“These reports are vital to the success of a bill. Congress must have a clear understanding of the financial impact of making a change in the Social Security law, as well as what the impact is on the beneficiaries,” continued Duhamel. “This is the reason why we were taken aback by Social Security’s stance on the GPO and WEP. If government officials are supportive of the current law, then how can we trust that the numbers being provided to the Congress are accurate?”

For instance, a report issued by the Social Security Administration on HR 147, the GPO/WEP repeal legislation filed by Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-California), claims the cost of a full repeal would be some $62 billion over ten years. HR 147, which is currently before the House Subcommittee on Social Security, now has 308 cosponsors.

Despite overwhelming support for the bill, Washington insiders point to the $62 billion price tag as the reason for the reluctance to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. Similar circumstances exist with similar relief bills that are pending on the issue.

Newton Congressman Barney Frank’s bill, HR 750, would alter the GPO formula to only offset the Social Security benefit by 1/3 of ones public pension, rather than the current 2/3. The cost of HR 750 has been pegged at $10 billion over ten-years.

“As hard as we work at establishing a nationwide grassroots coalition, the multi-billion dollar price tag being placed on the various bills continues to be the main obstacle to overcome. Accurate or not, we have to rely on the facts and figures being put out by Social Security and the other government agencies,” explained White. “I do feel that there is hope that our efforts will result in a change being made.

“Our goal continues to be passage of HR 147, which completely repeals both the GPO and WEP. Regardless what anyone in Washington may think, there is no justification for the hurt these laws have caused public retirees. You have my word that we will continue to do everything in our power to resolve this problem. This Association does not give up.”