Illinois Retirees Hit By Offsets

JANUARY 1, 2009: Whether they supported his candidacy or not, the election of Barack Obama, as the 44th President of the United States, has brought a renewed hope to the thousands of members suffering under the Social Security Offset laws.

As members are well aware, the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO) reduce, or in some cases, eliminate the Social Security benefit of retired MA public employees. Currently, some 40% of Association members are impacted by one of the two laws.

Illinois, like Massachusetts, does not participate in Social Security. Therefore, Illinois retirees face the same reduction in their Social Security benefits as many of our members. In addition, many federal retirees, along with the majority of public retirees from California, Colorado, Louisiana, Ohio, and Texas, are impacted.

Having represented Illinois in the US Senate, as well as having served as a state Senator, Obama has been a strong backer of the efforts to repeal the WEP and GPO. He was a lead sponsor of S206, which sought to outright repeal the two laws.

In addition, Obama has chosen Chicago Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his White House chief of staff. The three-term Representative is a member of the Ways and Means Committee and as the 4th ranking Democrat in the House, is a top lieutenant of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). He is credited with orchestrating the Democratic takeover of the House in 2006 and was also a top aide to former President Bill Clinton.

With his district encompassing much of Chicago, Emanuel has been an ally on WEP/GPO repeal. He is a cosponsor of H.R. 82, which gained 335 sponsors during the 2007-2008 Congressional Session.

“Not only do we now have a friendly administration to work with, but the incoming president and his top advisors have been on the front lines trying to repeal the WEP and GPO,” said Legislative Liaison Shawn Duhamel, who is the Association’s point person on federal issues.

Coalition Building

While most Washington observers do not expect Social Security reform to be an issue advanced by the new president or Congress in 2009, officials from the affected non-Social Security states continue coalition building and lobbying efforts.

“The right pieces are being put in place to enact WEP and GPO reform during the Obama Administration. Support in Congress continues to grow as we build up this national coalition,” explained Association President Ralph White. “Everyone understands that the first order of business for the president is turning our economy around. Once that begins to happen, then issues like Social Security, can be tackled.”

A key component of the Association’s lobbying effort has been and continues to be building a true national grassroots effort to repeal both the WEP and GPO. Despite lack of Congressional action, great progress has been made over the past four years.

The 2007-2008 Congressional Session resulted in 38 US Senators and 335 House members lining up to cosponsor our Association’s WEP/GPO repeal legislation. Since Social Security is a federal issue, requiring Congressional action for changes to occur, obtaining support in states beyond Massachusetts is critical.

Working with the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems (NCPERS), Association officials have recently made inroads with Chicago’s retirement officials. In fact, retired Chicago Police Detective and former NCPERS President Robert Podgorny attended the fall meeting of the MA Association of Contributory Retirement Systems (MACRS) held in Springfield.

Along with Podgorny was NCPERS Executive Director Hank Kim, who heads up the Washington-based pension advocacy group, which has worked hand-in-hand with Association officials on the issue of WEP/GPO repeal. Another key member of the NCPERS leadership is Chicago Firefighter Daniel Fortuna, who has also been a leading voice for reform.

“We are going to reach out to as many retirement leaders as we can in the impacted states. Obviously the Chicago connection and the fact that Obama is serious about Social Security reform are critical to our future success,” continued Duhamel. “NCPERS is hosting a legislative conference in Washington in February. We expect Social Security to be a major topic.”