Blog

13 Jul
0

WEP Reform a Difficult Road

Dear Friends,

Everyday I have the privilege to work with thousands of TRTA members and supporters on issues paramount to their retirement. The reform of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) is one of the most impassioned and challenging efforts we deal with.

Like so many of you, we were disappointed that the help for current retirees may not be as much as we originally believed, certainly not as much as it should be. However, TRTA is right to support this current effort, and I wanted to offer some additional explanation to you before today’s vote.

Many of you have worked on this issue for years, decades even. TRTA pointed out when the WEP originally was passed it was a bludgeon against future retirees. Congress used the proverbial hammer when a scalpel may have been warranted. The issue that WEP was trying to address, that of non-covered Social Security years of employment (referred to as uncovered earnings), was an attempt to address benefit calculation issues with the SS formula.

For three decades, public workers have felt the effects of that hammer on their vastly reduced Social Security benefits. Many of you have offered true, compelling and heart-wrenching stories about how difficult it is to make ends meet because of a reduced SS benefit. So many of my friends have travelled to Washington, D. C. with me to argue against this very arbitrary and unfair law.

I started working for retired educators in 1996. That’s when I first learned about the WEP and the Government Pension Offset (GPO). I took up the torch with my good friend and former TRTA Executive Director Mike Lehr to convince Congress that WEP was more than unfair, it was punitive, and something needed to be done. Full repeal was and is the official position of TRTA! That’s what we have always championed and believe is the best solution to this issue.

Today, for the first time that I can remember, a U.S. House committee will put forward a bill that has a very real chance of passing and is viewed by many to be a far more fair way to address the WEP. The magnitude of this moment cannot and should not be lost in what is often times the hyper-charged world of politics and policymaking in D.C.

I wish I could adequately convey to you that this attempt, even if it is not everything all of us may hope to have, is a major step forward. You see, not everyone agrees that the WEP is a problem.

Many elected officials have their own solution to the WEP. They vary from “leave it alone and let it work the way it does” to “there is no problem with the WEP except that some people who should be affected by it do not get ‘caught’ in the current system and we need greater enforcement” to “if you want to get rid of the WEP, then your state public employees should be forced into Social Security.” While that final option may sound ideal, the reality is that decision would likely destabilize and ruin our Teacher Retirement System benefit plan.

We have often talked about the 14 states that are impacted by WEP and GPO. This can be misunderstood. There are about 14 states where public educators do not pay into the SS system while they are covered under their state’s teacher retirement system. We call this non-covered service. However, every state in the country has public workers that pay into a pension plan and may not pay into SS. The 14 states receive a lot of attention because educators, by and large, are the largest group of public workers impacted by the WEP and GPO because there are more public school employees than any other public servant. The WEP, though, hurts educators, state workers, firefighters, cops and millions of public employees across the nation.

Today is a big day. I have answered many emails and phone calls from disappointed TRTA members that the rebate portion of HR 711 has been reduced. Much of that reduction was a compromise on a portion of the bill called “enforcement.” There are many public workers who have retired and may have been misinformed about the WEP, or for some reason, inappropriately reported their government service and have not been “WEPed.”

The bill created a path to recalculating the benefits of those who have not reported their government service and “enforcing” the WEP on those it should have impacted but have “slipped through” for whatever reason. While “enforcement” has always been a part of the discussion, the removal of the provisions impacted the rebate amount for those retirees who adequately and truthfully reported their work history to SS. This compromise on the enforcement language in the legislation has taken a lot of the money off the table.

While it was right to look at the enforcement provision of the bill and offer a compromise, it was a costly price to absorb for retirees receiving the rebate. During this process we have also witnessed disagreements between two vitally important groups who serve Congress during these discussions. “Scoring” the bill (the process by which Congress is informed of the cost or the savings of an action) has been extremely difficult. The end result is that the Congressional Budget Office and the Social Security Actuary needed to come to some agreement on how the bill works and what its fiscal impact is over an agreed upon time horizon. The CBO uses a 10-year time horizon and the SSA uses a 40-year time horizon, vastly different approaches. Neither is wrong for their intended purpose, but when these two views collide, they make policy development incredibly difficult.

I know this sounds like internal policy mumbo-jumbo, and should not be our problem to correct. However, fiscal policy is not our only dilemma. Our coalition has dealt with numerous counter proposals, setbacks and impassioned disagreement within our own public employee realm on how best to deal with this issue. At the same time, we have met resistance to any change at all from other groups who do not think reform is warranted. There are plenty of other groups who do not represent public workers who view this revenue possibility in the SS system as their opportunity to seize available dollars and advance their issues while we sit on the sidelines or work out our differences. Ultimately, those groups hope we lose the momentum to help our members and future retirees.

There is always someone else, some interest or group in D. C., waiting to seize the moment and take a victory back to their members at a cost to someone else. Today, we have the chance to take a big step forward to help OUR members. We want to help all public workers impacted by the WEP. TRTA members have said to me “please do not let my daughter or my son, who is now a teacher, end up being hurt in the same way that I have been hurt by the WEP.” That plea has been made to me countless times, and was made with no regard to that person’s own benefit.

We have an opportunity today to help those future retirees. We have a chance to also help the current retirees receive as much as $720 a year, and that extra rebate will happen every year for the rest of that retiree’s life.

I could say to you easily that “TRTA supports full repeal and we will accept nothing less,” but many of you have told us that you do not believe complete repeal will ever happen and that something is better than waiting on nothing. TRTA is not abandoning the idea of complete repeal, but we will also not sit by idly. I will not sell you false hope that full repeal is just around the corner if we hold out until the next election or the next election after that. We have heard such things for decades.

Congressman Kevin Brady (our Texas Congressman!) is an honest man. He is a believer in public service. He is a good guy trying to bring dozens, even hundreds, of interests together to start addressing the horrible problems of the WEP and GPO. He has brought with him another good guy, Congressman Richard Neal, to the table to get this resolved. We all know Congressman Brady as a respected Republican from Texas. Mr. Neal is a respected Democrat from Massachusetts. These two men are working TOGETHER in a BIPARTISAN way to address an issue that has been left untouched for more than 30 years.

Every journey starts with the first step. We have all been trying to really get this process started, and it has been a long and difficult road. We need the House Ways and Means Committee to vote this bill out of their committee today and start the journey to helping our current and future retirees by putting money back in their pockets as quickly as possible.

We can, and will, always work for more. We need to start somewhere. Waiting for complete repeal has taken 30 long years already. TRTA members are tired of nothing getting in the way of something.

Please consider this a first step. We can make this better as we continue on this journey. Help us seize the moment in front of us. Ask your friends, family, fellow retired teachers, active educators, and anyone you know who is a police officer, firefighter or other public worker to support this effort. We need all the help we can get.

TRTA is going to do whatever we can to get you some much deserved relief. We will not give up on getting you the most possible, but this process cannot end today. We have all worked too hard to be told it’s better to wait with nothing to show for it.

Call your Congressman today and tell them we support Chairman Brady and Congressman Neal to reform the current WEP and to pass HR 711 out of the Ways and Means Committee. Click here to find your Congressman’s phone number (at the bottom of the page). Even if your Congressman does not serve on the Ways and Means Committee, let’s send a message to that they should pay attention to this bill and we will need their vote soon when this process takes us to the next step…a full vote by Congress supporting HR 711!

Your friend,

Tim Lee

Executive Director

Texas Retired Teachers Association

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13 Jul
0

WEP Reform Receives Major Setback in Committee Hearing, Fight for Equal Treatment Continues

The Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (H.R. 711) received a major setback in its hearing under the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee today. The bill, which seeks to reform the harmful Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), was scheduled to receive a vote, but was postponed indefinitely due to push back from various public worker organizations.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R – The Woodlands) expressed his disappointment for the bill’s exemption from the committee meeting. He stated that an agreement could not be formed among advocacy organizations, and that this disagreement is the cause of the bill’s postponement.

“We need the community to come together,” said Brady. “We will postpone consideration of H.R. 711 until agreement is found.”

Meanwhile, many retired and active educators will continue to lose hundreds of dollars per month until an agreement is reached. The inaction on H.R. 711 today was a major setback for reforming the WEP, including any real discussion about a full repeal.

Some public worker advocacy groups recently have called for the dismissal of H.R. 711 and support only a full repeal of the WEP. These actions have done a tremendous disservice to public education employees especially, the largest group of public servants impacted by the provision.

Congressman Richard Neal (D –Massachusetts) also expressed his dismay at the bill’s postponement. He pointed to the need for those in various public service communities to come together on this issue.

While we are disappointed at TRTA about today’s postponement, we want our members to know that we are not giving up on H.R. 711!

Now is NOT the time to assume progress on the WEP is lost; in fact, the CLOCK IS TICKING. Congress reconvenes in September and we have no time to waste to get H.R. 711 back on track for a committee vote!

If you are not already a member of TRTA, please join today. Only by working together will we be able to resolve the WEP. If you are already a member, please encourage your fellow retirees to join and renew.

TRTA is ready to get to work on finding agreement with advocacy groups across the country, and will do so tirelessly until our members and public service retirees across the nation receive some financial relief!

Thank You

We would like to thank our members, our national coalition partners and all those who have made phone calls and sent letters on this issue. We will be asking for your help again in the very near future, and we ask for your patience and continued support.

TRTA especially thanks Chairman Brady for his tireless work on the bill, as well as Congressman Neal for his steadfast support and passionate plea for all groups to come together in agreement.

TRTA will continue to provide national leadership and help others come to the table on this critical issue. Please be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to stay up-to-date on all our legislative news.

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12 Jul
0

Changes Expected as WEP Repeal Progresses

As you may have read last week, the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) has been visiting Washington D.C. throughout the summer to work for the passage of HR 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act.

Texas Congressman Kevin Brady (R – The Woodlands) introduced the bill to Congress in an effort to provide financial relief to current and future retirees who fall under the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). While HR 711 is not a full repeal of the WEP, it will provide significant financial relief for millions of current and future retirees.

The WEP was first instituted in 1983, and since its inception, TRTA has fought vigorously for its repeal. HR 711 is a bill that has a real chance of going into effect, as it is a bi-partisan bill created by the chairman of the House of Ways and Means Committee, Brady.

TRTA has been working closely with a national coalition of education advocacy groups to pass HR 711 and help as many retirees as possible. During TRTA’s visit to D.C. last week, several changes were made to the bill to improve its chances of passage.

We Need Your Help Today!

This week, the newly modified HR 711 will receive a hearing at the House Ways and Means Committee hearing. We need your help encouraging all Ways and Means members to support the bill. If you are a constituent of Representative Lloyd Doggett, we ask that you call his office today and tomorrow morning to ask for his support. You may reach Congressman Doggett at 202.225.4865.

Changes to HR 711 Explained

The most significant change to HR 711 is how and when current retirees can expect to receive financial relief. If you are a retiree subject to the current WEP formula and you already receive some Social Security income as of December 31, 2017, you will remain under the current WEP formula and receive a 15 percent rebate on your reduction by the end of 2018. This rebate also applies to retirees who are 62 by December 31, 2017 with uncovered service who do not yet receive monthly benefits.

Monthly benefits from Social Security for these retirees will not change. The 15 percent rebate will be disbursed annually, beginning in 2018. The average annual rebate is expected to be approximately $480, but will depend upon your current WEP reduction amount. Please refer to the chart below for examples. To determine your projected annual rebate, you must first determine by how much the WEP is reducing your Social Security benefit. Your rebate amount will not be determined by your monthly Social Security income, but by how much it is reduced.

Current Monthly Reduction Amount (WEP) Projected Annual Rebate Amount
$400 $720
$300 $540
$200 $360
$100 $180
National Average $270 $486

It is also possible that the rebate will increase over time, to as much as 50 percent of the WEP amount, as the implementation of HR 711 is reviewed by the Social Security Administration.

For future retirees, those who will be age 62 or older as of January 1, 2018, the new Equal Treatment formula will apply. Instead of receiving an annual rebate, those retirees will have their monthly Social Security benefits adjusted using the new, fairer formula. Future retirees who would have been subject to the WEP will be as well off or somewhat better off than current retirees with the passage of HR 711.

In order to provide relief to as many retirees as possible and to prevent harm to retirees who have uncovered service but are not currently subject to the WEP, the amount of the rebate has been reduced from the original projections. TRTA and its partners worked closely with the bill sponsor, Representative Brady, to ensure that current retirees were not suddenly burdened with proving why their non-covered service should not be subject to WEP.

The removal of this enforcement provision from the bill prevents millions of retirees from being harmed by the bill’s passage. This compromise is important to TRTA and its partners, as it removes barriers to passing HR 711 and provides a clearer path for 1.5 million current retirees to receive financial relief in their lifetimes.

Only because of TRTA and its national partners continuing to exert pressure to pass HR 711 will millions of hard-working retirees receive more of their earned Social Security benefits! TRTA and its partners are proud to say that for the first time in 30 years, there will finally be a committee vote on eliminating the arbitrary WEP formula!

Thank You

TRTA members are making a difference both locally and nationally. TRTA will continue to fight for the rights of its public education retirees on Social Security issues like the WEP.

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