by Tim Reed
With more and more Americans entering retirement without adequate personal savings, some lawmakers are stepping forward to ensure Social Security enables all Americans to retire without fear and that it rests on a sounder financial footing for future generations.
U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA 38) introduced in the House last week the Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013 (H.R. 3118). Introduced in the Senate earlier this year by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) as S.B. 567, the bill seeks to increase benefits for current and future beneficiaries, ensure cost of living increases reflect the real living expenses of retirees, and improve the long-term financial condition of the fund.
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Educators, firefighters, police officers, military veterans and other public servants are encouraged about the proposed changes, as the little-known and unfair GPO (Government Pension Offset) and WEP (Windfall Elimination Provision) rules already reduce benefits for many public retirees. GPO/WEP rules are intended to keep retirees from “double dipping” and receiving retirement benefits from multiple public sources by reducing Social Security benefits if workers have also earned a public pension.
In practice, though, GPO/WEP means that employees who move from private to public sector work or change states often don’t have enough time to earn a full pension, and are also not allowed to access their Social Security benefits, even though they have been paying into the fund for their entire career. Others have found that they are not eligible to receive survivor benefits from a military spouse who lost his or her life in the line of duty simply because they also decided to dedicate their lives to public service.
Janice Quos illustrated the problem with GPO/WEP in a comment on a recent article on Education Votes, saying:
My story is very similar to others. I also went back to college [to study to become a teacher] after having three children and paid for it with loans. The exception is that my husband then passed away (a Vietnam Vet, owner of a small business, and village mayor). That’s about the time I found out that I will never receive any of the money he “contributed” to Social Security, or the money I paid in during the years I worked outside of teaching. I think sometimes my head will explode I get so angry about this unfair law.
The legislation that was introduced last week is intended to address three main issues with social security:
- Reform the Social Security benefit formula: By changing the way Social Security benefits are calculated, the average retiree would receive an additional $70 per month, with larger gains for those in the low and middle income brackets.
- Change the way Cost of Living Adjustments are calculated: By basing COLA increases on the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), costs such as the increasing price of retirement care and prescription medications will be factored into benefits.
- Improve the sustainability of the trust: To help sustain Social Security for the long term, the bill would remove the $133,700 taxable cap on wages, ensuring the nation’s highest earners are paying their fair share of costs.
With retirees across the country struggling to make ends meet, even after a life dedicated to public service and our nation’s students, now is the time to strengthen Social Security and ensure the long-term economic prosperity of our seniors. Click here to email your elected officials and urge them to protect and strengthen Social Security.