Last week, the U.S. House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee convened at a unionized firehouse in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to discuss Social Security fairness for the more than 100,000 public employees negatively affected by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO). The primary bill discussed at the hearing was H.R. 82, The Social Security Fairness Act, which would repeal this pair of pernicious provisions.
The WEP reduces the Social Security retirement, disability, spousal, or survivor benefits of people who worked in jobs in which they did not pay Social Security taxes but are vested in the system because they worked in a different job in which they did pay Social Security taxes. The GPO reduces the spousal/survivor benefits of people who receive a pension from a job in which they did not pay Social Security taxes by two-thirds of their own monthly public pension annuity.
The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) estimates that 96% of its members do not pay into Social Security, so these two provisions take a substantial toll on retired Texas educators.
Rep. Mike Carey (R-Ohio) kicked off the hearing — entitled “Social Security’s Disservice to Public Servants: How the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset Mistreat Government Worker” — by stating that the WEP and GPO formulas were “flawed” and “unfair.”
Rep. Jason Smith (R-Missouri), chairman of the full Ways and Means Committee, added that, “Congress must find a bipartisan way to provide public servants with the fair treatment that they deserve.” Educators in Ohio and Missouri, as well as Louisiana, the site of the hearing, are all negatively affected by the WEP and GPO.
The subcommittee also received testimony from four retirees hurt by the WEP and GPO: a retired policeman, firefighter, state employee, and teacher. Paula Porter, the retired teacher who worked in Louisiana public schools for 38 years, had to return to work because of the insufficient retirement benefits she received. Because of the GPO, she did not receive Social Security after the death of her husband when she was just 42 years old.
“It was very unfair, because I chose to teach school, that I am denied my husband’s benefits,” Porter told lawmakers.
The committee adjourned without taking any official action. Currently, H.R. 82 by Rep. Garrett Graves (R-Louisiana), who was in attendance for the meeting, has over 300 cosponsors in the House. The companion legislation in the Senate, S.597 by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), has over 49 cosponsors. The Social Security Fairness Act gained significant support during the previous session of Congress but did not pass before the House adjourned.
Texas AFT commends the House Ways and Means Committee for taking this action to rectify this historic unfairness.