by Tim Reed
Educators, firefighters, police officers, librarians, nurses and other public employees already contribute up to ten percent of their salary towards their pensions, and many do not even get Social Security. Despite this, the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) penalize people who have dedicated their lives to public education and other public service careers by taking away benefits they have EARNED.
Luckily, Democrats and Republicans in both the Senate and House of Representatives are working together to address these troubling provisions. The Social Security Fairness Act of 2013 has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) as HR 1795. On the Senate side, Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK), Dean Heller (R-NV), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have introduced the same bill as S 896.
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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.
GPO/WEP does nothing more than punish those who have dedicated their lives to serving their communities. Take Heidi from Maine, for instance:
My husband was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of brain cancer. After surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, his sight was affected so he could no longer drive or read. Therefore, he could no longer work as a real estate appraiser. We lived on my teacher retirement pension, my small Social Security benefit ($250 a month before Medicare), and his Social Security check of $1,600. It was an adjustment having one income totally lost, but with careful management and no unforeseen unexpected expenses we could do it.
My husband lost his battle in April. Within two weeks of his death his Social Security benefit no longer was coming. After a phone interview with a Social Security representative, I found out that I would see none of it. Now my income was almost cut in half again. Trying to deal with his death was compounded immeasurably by this huge loss financially. I still wonder how I am going to make it. My husband worked all his life and paid into Social Security. He was in the Marines and the Army and was a Vietnam vet. I worked as a teacher of young children most of my life as well as other jobs to earn my Social Security benefit. The GPO and the WEP are devastating to me. What can I do to help get these repealed?
Not only does this policy devastate families of veterans, educators, and other public servants, but it is also having a negative impact on attempts to recruit the best and brightest from the private sector into teaching careers, like Carrie from California:
After graduating from college, I went to work in corporate America. I worked my way into management and was making three times what I do now as a school teacher. For twelve years I was in a rewarding position, doing the “right” thing in life, making a good salary, and was very proud of what I did for a living. Due to company management downsizing, I was forced to make a decision to move or demote. I chose to leave the company and go back to school to get a teaching credential.
To this day, I believe that it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I believed (and still do) that I could make a difference in students’ lives. Now, I find out that my financial reward for all these hard years of honest work is to have my Social Security benefits significantly cut each year that I teach. This is a true example of the government making it “easier and better” not to go into public service. There is something wrong when our country needs good, qualified, devoted teachers, and then takes away the money they earned before they decided to become good, qualified, devoted teachers. Some of the best teachers we have are those who have brought all their prior experience, travels, knowledge, training, and skills to the classroom. Why are we penalizing these great teachers?
Until they hear a chorus of educators and public servants demanding change to these provisions, legislators will continue to balance the budget on the backs of retirees. Email your elected officials today and urge them to repeal the GPO and WEP!