SOCIAL SECURITY OFFSETS TAKE NATIONAL TOLL

MARCH 2008: At times, members who have lost part or all of their Social Security benefit to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) or Government Pension Offset (GPO) may feel as if they are alone in their fight to repeal both federal laws.

However, Massachusetts public retirees are anything but alone. While only seven states are viewed as being predominately non-Social Security, there are sizable numbers of public retirees in all fifty states – almost 1.4 million – who are impacted by the WEP and GPO.

Across the country, it is now believed that more than five million retirees and active employees – federal, state and local – are or will be impacted by the WEP/GPO. This number will only grow as new employees are hired in states that do not participate, fully or partially, in Social Security.

Statistics gathered by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) indicate that there are now more than 971,000 current public retirees affected by the WEP. Another 401,000 have seen their Social Security benefit either reduced or eliminated by the GPO. With each year, these numbers substantially grow. Ed Note: CBO’s figures on retirees, hurt by the GPO, are as of June 2004, while those for WEP retirees are from December 2006. It’s reasonable to assume that the number of state and local retirees, impacted by these laws, has grown, including here in Massachusetts.

Nationally, there are thirteen states with 20,000 or more current retirees affected by the WEP. As the chart  indicates, there are thousands of retirees, in all fifty states, impacted by the WEP and GPO. Even Alaska and Hawaii each have many thousands of affected retirees.

"As the numbers show, WEP and GPO are a national issue. There is not a corner of this country that is untouched," explained Association Legislative Liaison Shawn Duhamel. "Over the past few years, we have been working hard to build alliances and a national coalition on this issue. It has been slow going, but political leaders from around the country are now taking notice of this issue."

Full Repeal Eyed

Upon review of the listing of the numerous bills pending on Social Security reform in our January edition of the Voice, some members became concerned that the Association was backing away from our longstanding call for a full repeal of both the WEP and GPO. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The chart that appeared in the January newsletter was simply to inform our members of the various proposals that are now before the Congress. S. 206 and H.R. 82, which call for a full repeal, are the bills that our Association supports.

"Our focus has always been on passing a full repeal of both the WEP and GPO. These laws are wrong and having a devastating impact on our members," said Association President Ralph White. "While any one of these bills can be amended by Congress, our focus is on bringing the question of full repeal to a vote."

In the US Senate, where a hearing took place on S. 206 in November, thirty-six US Senators are now on record supporting a full repeal of both the WEP and GPO. In the House of Representatives, New York Congressman Michael McNulty, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Social Security, has also conducted hearings on H.R. 82 (see related article).

COLA Offset

One aspect of the GPO law, that particularly enrages public retirees, is a provision that further reduces a member’s Social Security payment every time they receive a pension COLA. This policy acts as a further financial setback to members, mostly low income widows, who have already seen their Social Security benefit reduced. For example, if a GPO widow received a $360 annual COLA on her Mass. pension this past July, then eventually she will receive a letter from Social Security, notifying her that they’re reducing her annual SS benefits by two-thirds of her COLA or $240.

At his hearing in November, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry directly addressed the issue of the "continuing" COLA offset as one part of the law that really sticks out as being harmful to retirees. Kerry indicated that his Committee may consider an amendment that ends the COLA reductions for future years.

"The policy of continuing to offset the COLA amounts each year is like rubbing salt in an open wound. Here we have widows living on very fixed incomes and instead of helping them to get a little bit ahead, we have a government policy that is dragging them down," continued White.

"Apparently this is an issue that stood out to John Kerry. Hopefully, he can do something about it.

"At the very least, the Senate would be taking a step in the right direction by changing this outrageous COLA offset. This small change would be a great relief to many widows who are being hurt more and more by the GPO."

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