Latest Attempt to Ease 'Windfall' Penalty Has Bipartisan Support in House
By Stephen Barr
Friday, May 21, 2004; Page B02
A bipartisan group in the House has introduced legislation that would enhance the Social Security benefits of retirees who paid into a government pension plan in lieu of Social Security during part of their careers.
The bill, announced yesterday by its chief sponsor, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), would alter a Social Security formula known as the "windfall elimination provision." The provision has reduced benefits for many public-sector employees, including several thousand who have retired since 1986 under the Civil Service Retirement System.
"We were going for fairness," Brady said. "And we knew if we did that, we could help a bunch of teachers, firefighters and others."
Brady said the bill has won the support of the National Education Association, the Texas State Teachers Association and the Association of Texas Professional Educators.
Randall Moody, manager of federal policy and politics at the NEA, called the bill "a step toward full repeal" of the windfall elimination provision. House Republicans have promised a hearing on the proposal, and "that is very encouraging," Moody said.
The National Association of Retired Federal Employees is studying the bill, said Judy Park, the group's legislative director. "It is a proposal that is well worth looking at," she said.
The windfall elimination provision reduces Social Security benefits of retirees who paid into the system for part of their careers and who also receive a government pension from work not covered by Social Security.
The provision affects Social Security benefits paid on the first $612 in average monthly career earnings. Although private-sector retirees receive 90 percent of the first $612, some government pensioners receive only 40 percent.
Brady's proposed alternative would replace the formula with a calculation that he said would provide "equal treatment for those who have their whole life in Social Security and those who have worked part of their life in Social Security and a Social Security substitute."
To calculate Social Security benefits, the revised formula would take into account an individual's entire work history and earnings subject to Social Security taxes, as well as the basic benefit formula used for all workers.
According to an example provided by the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security, a retiree receiving $576 a month in Social Security benefits would get $705 under the legislation. The example assumed that the retiree turned 62 this year and had career earnings averaging $3,300 a month.
Under the bill, an NEA briefing paper said, people with lower career earnings would see a higher percentage increase in benefits, which is in keeping with the original intent of Social Security.
Other sponsors of the bill are Reps. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.), Sam Johnson (R-Tex.), Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) and Michael Michaud (D-Maine).
Efforts to repeal the windfall elimination provision, created in 1983 because Congress was concerned that government workers might receive overly generous Social Security benefits, have faltered repeatedly in recent years. Although repeal bills have attracted as many as 300 co-sponsors, the bills have never been put to a vote, primarily because of their high cost.
Brady estimated that his proposal would cost a relatively modest $7 billion over 10 years. "We think this has a much better chance," he said.
Dora E. Jones, chief of plans, policies and acquisition at the Air Force Pentagon Communications Agency, will retire June 1 after more than 35 years of federal service.
Mike Dovilla, executive director of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com.
Norm Enger, e-government director at the Office of Personnel Management, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).
"Beware of Buyouts" will be the topic of discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).
© 2004 The Washington Post Company