The inability of the House leadership to name conferees to the Social Security financing bill could be a real time, and money, break for thousands of retired federal workers.
Both the Senate and the House have approved legislation for future financing of the Social Security System. The Senate bill, in particular, calls for big increases in Social Security taxes paid by workers and employers.
The Senate bill would also reduce retirement income for thousands of federal retirees whose husbands or wives are eligible for, and drawing, Social Security benefits. The Senate plan would eliminate public employee eligibility for full social security dependent's annuities, or full social security payments as the survivor of a spouse who receives or was entitled to social security benefits.
Under the Senate-passed bill, the amount of the social security dependent or survivor annuity would be reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount of the civil service pension. In other words, a federal retiree could get his full pension and any social security benefits he (or she) earned. His or her spouse could get full social security benefits earned. But the person drawing a federal or public pension could not also draw full auxilliary or survivor benefits from the social security pension of his or her spouse. That is what would be "offset" by the Senate bill.
The Senate language would make the offset effective "on the basis of applications filed in or after the month in which this act is enacted." That means if the Senate-House conferees support the Senate language, and President Carter signs it anytime in December, the effective date of the "offset" would apply to anyone, any federal retiree who had not applied for, or was not receiving, auxiliary social security benefits from a spouse by Nov. 30.
That next Wednesday cutoff for becoming eligible for full social security auxiliary benefits holds true if the Senate version of the bill becomes law anytime in December. But Senate-House conferees have a lot of work, and compromising to do. And the House hasn't even named its conferees yet.
Insiders says it could be December before the House picks its bargaining team on the social security bill. If that prediction is true, it would give the conferees only a few working days in December to iron out a compromise.Then the complex bill, which is as thick as the telephone book of a medium sized city, must go back to the Senate, and back to the House, for final approval. Then to the President. All this will take time.
Area legislators, as reported here earlier will try to get House conferees to kill the Senate offset language altogether. If that doesn't work they will ask for a 6-month delay before the offset languages goes into effect for newly qualified retirees.
Even if they fail to win that delay, the slowness of the House in naming its conferees could push final action on the social security bill into January. In that case retirees who are not now drawing auxiliary benefits from a spouse's social security would have another month to qualify for them, and avoid being hit by the offset.
Offset, as this column has pointed out before, would not affect any federal retiree who is now drawing auxiliary benefits from a spouses social security. It would not affect the pension earned by the retiree, nor the social security benefits earned by the spouse. It would not affect social security benefits earned by the federal retiree (and more than half now qualify for them).
What offset would do is hit about 85,000 retirees each year as they and their spouse become eligible (through reaching ago 60 for survivor, or 62 for dependent benefits) to draw auxiliary benefits.They wouldn't necessarily lose all of their dependents' entitlement, but most would since their federal pensions are considerably larger than any dependent spouse or survivor benefit they would be eligible for.
Earlier, this column advised eligible federal and public retirees who wanted to avoid offset to file for dependent or survivor benefits before the end of November. That advice is still good. If the bill becomes law anytime in December, then Dec. 1 will mark the beginning of "offset" for anybody applying after that time.
If the bill is approved later, if the Senate provision is killed by conferees, or if a later effective date is approved, retirees could either cancel or defer their application for benefits. But if the Dec. 1 cutoff date becomes law, they will not be able to apply after that time and qualify for full survivor or dependent benefits.