Congress is on summer break and the president is at his Texas ranch, but at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, this is a dandy time for grass-roots lobbying.
More than 40,000 NARFE members have sent postcards to Capitol Hill urging their congressional representatives to find a remedy for two stipulations of Social Security law that the association contends unfairly penalize many federal retirees, especially lower-income women. More postcards are on the way.
NARFE included the postcards in its August magazine and asked retirees to write a personal note to their senators and representatives in favor of repeal or modification of the provisions, called the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision.
"We've got people ginned up on this who hadn't done anything before," said Judy Park, NARFE's legislative director.
Because mail to Capitol Hill undergoes irradiation for anthrax and other potential hazards, Park said, sending postcards in August ensures that they will have enough time to get through the postal system and onto the desks of members of Congress when they return after Labor Day. September could be a critical month in the Social Security debate if House leaders decide to act on a controversial overhaul proposed by the president.
NARFE believes that its best chance to win repeal or modification of the pension offset and windfall elimination provisions will come during a debate on restructuring the Social Security system. In 2003, the Social Security Administration testified that any action to revamp the pension offset should be done in the context of overall changes to the system.
The two provisions were adopted by Congress in an attempt to ensure that public and private employees are treated more or less equally when it comes to determining benefits. But opponents contend that they carve too deeply into benefits that government workers feel they have earned.
The government pension offset affects employees of the federal government hired before 1984 and covered by the Civil Service Retirement System but not by Social Security. These retirees have qualified for a CSRS pension and a Social Security spousal benefit. The offset cuts the spousal benefit, reducing it to two-thirds of the government pension.
The windfall provision reduces Social Security for retirees who paid into Social Security and also receive a government pension. In many cases, the provision results in a penalty of more than $300 a month because government pensioners receive their Social Security benefits under a less-generous formula than the one used to calculate monthly checks for private-sector retirees.
According to congressional estimates, the two laws apply to about 6 million public employees, including 1 million federal employees. Many of the non-federal workers are in 16 retirement systems, including state retirement programs in California and Maine, that operate outside of Social Security.
Federal retirees have banked 2.7 percent toward their next cost-of-living adjustment, according to Labor Department data.
COLAs are determined by the change in the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers from the third quarter of one year to the third quarter of the next. The 2006 COLA will be announced in mid-October.
This year, most government retirees received a 2.7 percent increase in their monthly checks. People who retired under the newer Federal Employees Retirement System and were 62 or older received a 2 percent adjustment.
President Bush directed the Pentagon yesterday to conduct the 10th quadrennial review of military compensation.
The review will look at how the armed forces can better use pay and bonuses to enhance recruitment and retention and to improve the quality of life for uniformed personnel and their families.
Bush, in a memo released by the White House, asked the Pentagon to consider "the potential for consolidation of special pays and bonuses into fewer, broader and more flexible authorities" and "the implications of changing expectations . . . relating to retirement."