What about me?

That is the question a lot of federal tretirees are asking about the Senate proposal to cut back future social security benefits due to a "dependent" or the survivor of a spouse who earned social security entitlement.

The Senate-cleared social security funding bill is designed to reduce "double dipping" by federal workers who get a public pension and also full benefits either as a dependent of or the survivor of a spouse who earned social security credit.The reduction, however, would not apply to people already getting it. The Senate measure would cut it off only for people applying in the future. An estimated 80,000 a year could be affected by it.

The Senate bill calls for an "offset" that would reduce the "dependent" or survivor benefit for federal retirees applying for those benefits after the law goes into effect, if it does. The offset provision also applies in the future to persons drawing state and local government pensions if they apply for benefits based on a spouse's social security.

The House-passed social security bill does not contain any government annuity vs social security offsetting language. If it prevails in the forth-coming Senate-House conference, retirees and future retirees have nothing to worry about. They can continue to collect their own civil service annuity and aslo be eligible for full social service benefits either as a dependent or as a survivor, if their spouse qualifies for social security payments.

If the Senate version prevails, however, thousands of federal retirees who are not now drawing their spouse's social security benefits will lose a portion of them when they become eligible and apply for them.

That is because of the offset provision.

Yesterday's column advised federal retirees who thought they were entitled either to a dependent benefit or a survivor benefit, based on a spouse's social security, to apply for it this month, thereby beating the deadline if the Senate language becomes law.

Dozens of retirees called here to say that they got little or no help at all from local social security offices. Some said the personnel were either rude or unaware of details, or both. More on that in a later column.

The problem is that the offset provisions is very, very complicated. And beating the deadline is a complicated process.

In hopes of making it easier to understand - including for those "too busy" folks at the social security offices - here is a guide that tells who would be hit by the Senate language, who won't, and what those people who are affected can do to protect their benefits. Bear in mind not everybody can.The guide:

The Senate bill will not in any way affect any civil service annuity. You earned it. You keep it. Offset does not affect it.

The bill will in no way affect earned social security benefits. If you earned them in addition to a federal pension, you get both. Same for your spouse.

Nobody currently receiving a civil service pension and a dependent or survivor's benefit from social security would be touched by the Senate bill. It is not retroactive. If you are getting it, you have it.

What would be affected is the amount of social security benefits due you (as a future federal retiree) from your spouse if you are considered either a dependent or are a survivor. That off-set provision would be effective in the Senate bill ". . . with respect to benefits payable for months starting with the month of enactment on the basis of application filed in or after the month of enactment."

Anybody who worked in both the public sector (federal state or local government) would continue to get whatever pension he or she earned or is entitled to in future. That same person, who also qualifies foe an earned social benefit for work performed in the privte sector also would get his or her full social security entitlement.

It is only those federal retirees who apply in the future (after the law is passed) for a dependent benefit deriving from theirhusbandor wife's social security entitlement, or for survivor benefit, who would be a subject to offset. The Senate Finance Committee estimates it would hit about $5,000 people during the first year.

Social security offices should be better prepared (and perhaps in a better mood) to answer questions and help people on Monday.

They were swamped by calls (so was this office) from people who wer pleasant and nice to some who were not so nice, and others who wanted to read a detailed history of the social security system. But that is what a lot of us get paid for. And this is a big deal to a lot of people whose financial situation is difficult.