Area legislators, who represent 14 per cent of the nation's federal work force, are working to kill or delay a Senate plan that would sharply reduce Social Security survivor or dependent benefits for federal retirees.
Under the Senate-passed plan, nobody drawing a public annuity could, in the future, apply for and get full benefits either as the "dependent" or survivor of a spouse who was entitled to Social Security payments.
The Senate plan, due to go to conference with the House, would not affect the annuity or the Social Security benefits any employee or retiree has earned nor would it afect dependent or survivor benefits for retirees already drawing them. It would, however, reduce dependent or survivor benefits for persons retiring in the future, offsetting their entitlement from a spouse's Social Security payments dollar for dollar based on their own pension.
The House version of the Social Security financing bill does not contain any offset language. So federal unions, retiree groups and individuals hope to persuade the House conferees to kill the Senate offset proposal, or at least delay its implementation.
Under the Senate bill, the offset provision would be effective " . . . with respect to benefits payable for months starting with the month of enactment on the basis of applications filed in or after the month of enactment."
That means that if the Senate version becomes law in December, the cuttoff for applying for full dependent or survivor benefits would be Nov. 30.
If the Senate version were signed into law in January, then December would be the last month retirees could apply for full benefits based on a spouse's Social Security earnings.
To apply for a survivor or dependent benefit, the federal retiree must be 60 (if a widow or widower) or 62 if applying for dependent benefits. Obviously the spouse also must be eligible for, or receiving, Social Security benefits based on his or her own earning records.
There are several plans afoot to kill or delay the Senate language.
Rep. Gladys N. Spellman (D-Md.) believes the offset language amounts to a breach of contract between the government and citizens who works for it. They were given to understand that they could combine their pension, their husband or wife's Social Security earnings and also qualify for dependent or survivor benefits from the spouse's Social Security. Now, Spellman says, the rules are being changed.
If she can't get conferees to kill the Senate language, she will push for a 180-day delay in putting the offset provision into effect. This would give retirees more time to file for full benefits before the cuttoff. It also would give people who are now working in government time - if they meet the age requirements - to decide whether to keep working and eventually retire under the "offset" rule, or to retire now an get in under the wire.
Reps. Newton Steers (R-Md; and Joseph Fisher (D-Va.) also are working on plans to kill or delay the offset provision.
Two possibilities would be to refer the offset proposal to one of the study groups that is looking at the question of putting federal workers under Social Security, or a panel that is studying ways to set up a "dependency test." It would spell out financial need before a federal retiree could get all or part of his or her spouse's social security entitlement as either a dependent or a spouse.
Obviously, most retirees who have not yet filed for dependency or survivor benefits as well as everybody still working who is married to someone covered by Social Security would prefer the Senate plan be killed out-right. Their best hope at this stage of the game is for conferees to agree to some sort of deferral for offset, rather than ordering it effective immediately.
Nobody knows when, or even if, Congress will approve the final Social Security package and whether it will contain the Senate "offset" provision, but if the final bill does contain the offset language and the effective date is retained, people have very little time to apply for those auxiliary or survivor benefits.
Combined Federal Campaign: Area federal workers have pledged or given more than $11 million to the CFC. That is a 10 per cent jump over last year. The average CFC pledge was $43.
One of the biggest increases from any federal office was chalked up by the White House staff. They reported 80 per cent participation, and a nearly 43 per cent increase over the 1976 White House staffer gift. Special congratulations to key man Huge Carter for handling the voluntary program at the executive office.