by Tim Reed
Last week, Senators Mark Begich (D-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Dean Heller (R-NV) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the Social Security Fairness Act of 2013 (S. 896), previously introduced in the House (H.R. 1795) by Representatives Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Adam Schiff (D-CA). This legislation would repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which penalize people who have dedicated their lives to public education and other public service careers by taking away benefits they have EARNED.
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GPO reduces public employees’ Social Security spousal or survivor benefits by two-thirds of their public pension — nine out of ten people lose their entire spousal benefit, even though their spouse paid Social Security taxes for many years. WEP reduces the earned Social Security benefits of an individual who also receives a public pension from a job not covered by Social Security — hard-working people lose a significant portion of the benefits they have earned themselves.
What this means, in real terms, is that public servants such as teachers, firefighters and police officers are losing the benefits they earned through a lifetime of public service. Loss of benefits can result from moving from private to public employment and vice versa or moving between states that have different GPO/WEP rules.
The bipartisan legislation recognizes and respects the contributions of educators and other public employees by eliminating unfair penalties attached to public service. Nearly 1.2 million NEA members will be eligible for full retirement within the next 10 years. These people are educators that have devoted their lives to students.
The brave men and women serving as police officers and firefighters even have to worry about their spouses being able to receive their survivor benefits if they lose their lives in the line of duty. After dedicating their lives to protecting our nation, we owe them, at the very least, the peace of mind that comes with knowing their families will be able to access the benefits they have worked their entire lives to earn.
The effects of the unfair GPO-WEP practices have far-reaching implications for education, starting with disincentivizing a career in public service. We should be encouraging the best and brightest from the private sector to enter the teaching profession and help groom the next generation of leaders in this country, not punishing those who aspire to a life of public service.
Those who are attempting to enter public service across our country are being held back by the fear that they will not be able to provide for themselves and their families in retirement. Educator and former private industry employee “Pat S” said it well in a comment on a recent GPO/WEP article right here on Education Votes:
I am disgusted that hard-working teachers are discriminated against with WEP and GPO! I worked for 20 years in the private sector until I was finally in a financial position to afford finishing my college degree and credential program to become a teacher. I started teaching late in life and will not be able to accrue 30 years or so towards my retirement. My education retirement, therefore, will not meet my retirement needs. Had I known when I decided to dedicate myself to the future of children (teaching in a high poverty school district with a lower pay scale despite the fact that I live in an affluent community), I would probably not have made the same decision. I now have to worry about my own future as I may become a burden to my children.
I have paid into the mandatory Social Security system in my private sector positions, and I should therefore be paid benefits as any other citizen who draws on Social Security, based on my years of private service and pay rate.
As this discriminatory policy becomes more well known to those considering public employment, our country may lose the talents of those who worked hard, paid for their own education, and bring experience, knowledge, and a good heart to serve the public.
I will certainly never encourage my peers or others considering changing professions to consider public employment, and will tell them of the personal pitfalls they will encounter.
Our students deserve the best educators our country can produce, but right now an entire generation of hopeful teachers and career changers are being turned away by a broken system. Stand up for public servants and retirement security by sending an email to your elected officials urging them to support the Social Security Fairness Act of 2013!