ALERT #52 – Washington D.C. Report and What We Can Do Now

On April 2 more than 40 members of the California Retired Teachers Association arrived in Washington DC to speak to the policy makers (Legislative Aides) while their bosses were on Easter recess.  It involved lots of early planning as well as organizing the debriefings and writing thank you letters to the legislators. We thank CalRTA for the hard work they did to organize this!  It proved to be a good time to be there.

Every one of the 53 CA Congressional Offices was visited, nearly all of them with formal appointments on April 3.  In addition, on April 4th and 5th, three members of Social Security Fairness went to an additional six members of the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee and left information. We left information at another 22 offices of the members of the Senate Finance Committee (the Ways and Means counterpart in the Senate) and a few others.  Some of these visits were requested by our members, and the list of Senators we visited is at the bottom of this Alert.  Also, attached, is the 4-page packet we left in the offices.

A number of offices also were given hand-signed petitions for repeal from the Congress Person’s own constituents.  The online “petition” that is on our website is actually a method of sending emails directly to legislators and were sent when you signed that form. (Nearly 15,700 letters sent so far!)  While leaving the packets we were able to talk to aides in 7 different Senate offices, finding some for the repeal and some against it.

Useful things we learned:

1.  There are some strong forces, including NEA, working out a plan to re-introduce the repeal bills.  Timing is important as are the details.  We hope to see some new bills soon.

2.  The worst thing we heard is that the cost to get rid of the offsets is the same as will be “saved” by instituting the Chained CPI.  Neither will make much of a difference in the big picture. (less than 2% of annual payments)

3.   The most useful thing we heard was that many staff members, even those with years of experience on “The Hill,” do not understand how the offsets actually affect people.  Our job is to fix that.


Prepare your best letter and use it over and over. Mention the hardship that the Offsets have caused you, specifically, using dollar amounts if you wish, and also show them why much of the thought process behind the GPO/WEP is faulty.  Write to the person in your Representative or Senator’s office who is in charge of Social Security questions, when possible.  When explaining the faulty reasoning behind the GPO/WEP you may find a complete list of ideas in the attachment or select from the list below.

We recommend using these points when writing your Senator or Representative’s office.

1.  You were never told before you retired, either by your employer or by the SSA, that the statements you got for years were not representing the amount of money you would get as a benefit. (The law to inform employees did not affect anyone hired before Jan. 1, 2005)

2.   Although there have been some public employment situations where employees have had the choice to contribute to Social Security as well as their public pension, you had no choice whether or not to pay into Social Security. (Many people in Washington know that Federal employees in the 1980’s could choose to stay in their current retirement system and not pay into SS or join FERS and pay into both the Federal Employee Retirement System and Social Security, earning both pensions.

3.   The amount you lose to the WEP makes no sense based on your public pension amount and work history. (Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas has developed a formula that is more accurate, but it is also very complex.)  People who have studied this issue know that it is wrong.  It is based on a guess, rather than recent hard data.

4.   The GPO was not meant to cause dependants to lose ALL of their earned spousal or survivor benefits.  Changes in wages in the past 30 years have distorted the formula—a short career negates many years of dependency.  If you do get your own SS benefits they will be reduced each year by 2/3 of any cost of living increase in your public pension.

5.  Both Offsets have an unequal effect on women, and exacerbate the male/female wage gap.  Of the nearly 568,000 penalized by the GPO, 80% are women and, of those, 74% lose their entire Social Security benefit. In addition, women often have lower level wages and a shorter work career, which gives them a smaller Social Security retirement benefit based on their own work, and then that benefit is also cut by the WEP. This is a case of double jeopardy!

6. WEP fails to consider that some workers have earned only Social Security and no additional pension for part of their career.  Some employers provide no pension system and some pensions require a specific number of years before becoming vested. Therefore, because people change employers, lose their jobs before pensions are vested, or work for employers with no pension system, many people receive no separate pension contributions other than Social Security from their employers. Even though these workers may eventually qualify for a public pension in addition to Social Security, they will be deprived of some of the only retirement benefits they received for many of their working years. Their Social Security, and their retirement income will be calculated on a partial lifetime of work, rather than their full lifetime of work, thereby substantially reducing their future standard of living.

House Ways and Means members offices visited:

Doggett TX, Griffin AR, Sam Johnson TX, Kelly PA, Schwartz PA, Schock IL

Senate offices visited:  (*offices where we spoke to policy aides)

Begich*, Bennett, Boxer*, Brown, Carper, Cornyn, Feinstein*, Graham, Cantwell, Enzi, Hatch*, McCaskill, Mikulski, Murkowski, Rockefeller, Nelson, Portman*, Rubio*, Stabenow, Toomey, Warren*, Whitehouse.

We have received support from retirees in nearly every state in the Union. Thanks to all of you who have been acting on the Alerts and who have continued to bring this issue to the attention of Congress in a positive manner.  As we join together to fight for repeal we would like to clarify that unless people have given permission, it is not our policy to share private emailsThis is a long, hard battle and we respect everyone who has tried to right this wrong from whatever position they are in, including both elected and association officials.