Tag Archives: ETPSA

Guest Post: It’s Time to Fix the WEP

U.S. Representative Kevin Brady (R-Texas)

By Kevin Brady, Chairman
U.S. House Ways and Means Committee

The Windfall Elimination Provision or “WEP” is unfair. It’s unfair to public servants in Texas and across the nation, including places like California, Massachusetts and Ohio.  I’ve been working to repeal and replace the WEP for a decade. This is something we must do for our teachers, firefighters, police, and other public servants.

You probably know the history: When Social Security was created in 1935, state and local governments were excluded from participating due to Constitutional concerns.  Later, the law changed to allow state and local governments to offer Social Security to their employees.

As a result, many teachers, police, and firefighters still contribute to these longstanding retirement plans instead of Social Security since these substitute plans are often tailored to their chosen careers.  But many of these public servants also hold second (or third) jobs or have a second career where they’ve paid Social Security taxes. These folks rightfully expect to receive their earned Social Security benefits when they retire.  However, due to the WEP, their Social Security benefits end up being much lower than they were expecting.

Although the WEP may have been well intentioned in the start, today it’s simply unfair. Those affected by the WEP are subject to a different benefit formula than all other workers.  This arbitrary formula is based on a 1980’s one-size-fits-all Washington compromise and ignores a person’s actual work history.  The WEP also makes it harder to plan for retirement since the reduction doesn’t show up on a worker’s Social Security statement. When you are nearing retirement, surprises are never a good thing.

I think we can all agree that our teachers, police, and firefighters deserve better.

Working with my Democratic colleague from Massachusetts, Representative Richard Neal, and teacher, police, firefighter, and retiree groups, we’ve come together on a solution for addressing the WEP based on fairness, equal treatment and personal work histories.

Here’s how it would work.  The new proposal repeals the WEP as it exists today. Instead of only counting Social Security earnings as the current WEP does, we count all earnings of workers. This helps tailor benefits to your real-life work history.  This “proportional approach” calculates Social Security benefits using all earnings and then adjusts this amount based on the percentage of earnings that were subject to Social Security taxes.  This way, two workers with the same average earnings receive a Social Security benefit equal to the same percentage of their Social Security earnings.

Let’s look at an example for two teachers – one from Virginia who paid Social Security taxes on all of her earnings and another from Texas, who paid into a substitute retirement system like TRS but also tutored and paid Social Security taxes on these earnings.  Both teachers had average monthly earnings of $4,000.  The Virginia teacher had all of these earnings counted for Social Security purposes, while the Texas teacher only had $2,285 credited toward her Social Security benefits.

Under today’s law, the Virginia teacher would receive an initial monthly benefit of $1,776 if she claims at her full retirement age. That represents about 44 percent of her pre-retirement Social Security earnings.  On the other hand, because of the WEP the Texas teacher under today’s laws would only receive a monthly benefit of $800, which represents about 35 percent of pre-retirement Social Security earnings.

Under the new proposed “proportional approach”, the Virginia teacher would still receive a monthly benefit of $1,776.  But the Texas teacher would receive a monthly benefit of $1,015, which represents 44 percent of her pre-retirement Social Security earnings – or the same percentage as the Virginia teacher.

While the new proportional formula addresses the WEP for future retirees, we cannot leave current retirees behind. Our plan provides Social Security relief to current retirees affected by the WEP by providing special payments to these retirees. That’s only fair.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey met with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017 to discuss fixing the WEP.

Over the years – with the help of groups like the Association of Texas Professional Educators, Texas Retired Teachers Association and Mass Retirees – we have taken important steps toward finally fixing the WEP.  With your help, we will finally ensure equal treatment for our teachers, firefighters, police, and other public servants.

This is a top priority for me, and we will not rest until we have a solution in law.

 

Federal Update: Efforts to protect educators’ Social Security benefits

An Update from David Pore, ATPE’s Washington, DC-based lobbyist

David Pore

David Pore

For many years, your ATPE Governmental Relations team has worked to fix two provisions in federal law that unfairly reduce the Social Security benefits of some retired educators and other public employees. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) reduces the spousal benefits of some educators based on their eligibility for a government pension, and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the individual benefits of public retirees who have worked in jobs covered by Social Security in addition to their non-covered teaching careers. The WEP hits Texas educators particularly hard because the vast majority of our school districts in Texas do not pay into the Social Security system.

Every Congress, legislation is introduced to fully repeal both the WEP and the GPO. So, what’s the problem you ask? Why won’t the Congress repeal these unfair offsets and bring much-needed relief to retired public educators, cops, and firefighters living on fixed incomes? In short, it’s about the money, the politics, and the policy. Full repeal of the GPO and WEP would cost the Social Security trust fund tens of billions of dollars and create new inequities in the benefits formula, which in turn would create new winners and losers.

While ATPE has supported federal legislation to fully repeal these offsets, we have done so with the knowledge that passage of a full repeal bill is extremely unlikely in the current fiscal and political climate in DC. Therefore, consistent with our ATPE values, we have been working on bipartisan legislation that will take a huge first step in the right direction by repealing the arbitrary WEP and replacing it with a much fairer formula that will base your Social Security benefits on your service and contributions, just like everyone else. In the last Congress, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)  and Rep.  Neal (D-MA) introduced HR711, the Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act.  Working through a coalition of other associations, including the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), ATPE had significant input on this important bipartisan legislation that would have also provided a modest annual rebate check to current retirees who have had their benefits reduced by the WEP. We were able to get 29 of Texas’s 36 U.S. House members to cosponsor HR711, and in July of last year, it was scheduled for consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee, which Congressman Brady chairs.  Unfortunately, the bill stalled when one organization in the coalition demanded changes that would have upset the careful funding balance necessary to repeal the WEP going forward and provide current retirees some relief as well.

ATPE's Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

This year, we have been working with Chairman Brady, his committee staff, and the coalition to reach a consensus that will allow the bill to be reintroduced in the near future and hopefully attached to larger package of “must-pass” legislation. ATPE’s lobbyists have been in frequent contact with the Chairman and his committee staff and have been assured as recently as yesterday that reintroduction and passage of this bill is Chairman Brady’s top Social Security priority as Ways and Means Chair and will happen during this Congress. Meanwhile, the Congress continues to grapple with enormously challenging reform of our healthcare and tax systems, which has delayed consideration of other federal legislation.

What can you do? Continue to stay active and informed on the policy issues that affect your profession as well as the retirement benefits you have earned. When the bill is reintroduced, we will need ATPE members to mobilize and contact your Members of Congress and urge co-sponsorship and support to get this legislation to the President’s desk for signature. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more updates on this important topic.

Federal Update: New Congress kicks off, preps for DeVos confirmation hearing

 

UPDATE: After this story was published, the leaders of the Senate HELP committee announced that the DeVos confirmation hearing had been postponed to Jan. 17 at 4:00 PM CST. Chair Alexander and Ranking Member Murray stated that the change was made “at the request of the Senate leadership to accommodate the Senate schedule.”

 

Congress kicked off a new session last week with two new members from Texas and new members in top ranking positions on committees important to education and educators. This week, Congress is set to proceed with the Senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos to become the new U.S. Secretary of Education.

The first education-related item up on the new Congress’s agenda is the confirmation hearing for President-Elect Donald Trump’s education secretary pick, Betsy DeVos. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will meet Wednesday at 9:00 AM CST to begin the billionaire voucher-advocate’s confirmation process. DeVos remains a provocative pick for public education supporters as she has fought for decades on behalf of voucher proposals in several states, led advocacy organizations that pushed alt-school-choice options, and has no meaningful experience in the classroom or our public schools. Still, most Senate Republicans have praised her nomination and only Democrats are expected to show any opposition on Wednesday.

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The Senate HELP committee will have the choice to vote to move the nomination to the full Senate or take no action. Since DeVos’s nomination is expected to make it out of committee, the committee will likely report her nomination to the full Senate where she will need a simple majority vote for final confirmation. Watch DeVos’s confirmation hearing live or archived here.

While Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) remain the leaders of the Senate HELP committee in the new Congress, education committees in the U.S. House are experiencing changes in leadership. The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce will now be led by Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC), replacing the previous chair, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), who retired at the end of the year. The committee’s Democratic leader remains Ranking Member Bobby Scott of Virginia.

The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, which in previous sessions has seen bills to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO), will also have new leadership, but, in this case, only on the Democratic side of the aisle with new Ranking Member Richard Neal of Massachusetts. The House Ways and Means committee continues to be led by Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX), who has worked for years with ATPE and other groups to pass legislation that more fairly distributes Social Security benefits to teachers and other affected employees. ATPE is optimistic that the new ranking member, who co-authored Brady’s Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA) will fight alongside Chair Brady as they work towards repeal of the WEP this year.

Two new members of Congress from Texas also began work after being sworn in last week. Republican Representative Jodey Arrington of Lubbock and Democrat Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen both replace retiring members Randy Neugebauer and Ruben Hinojosa, respectively. ATPE sent letters welcoming Reps. Arrington and Gonzalez to Congress and welcomes all of the new members and leaders to their new roles. Stay tuned for updates from Washington as the new administration and Congress get underway.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 15, 2016

An ultimately anti-climactic week in Washington and other Texas education news is recapped here:


13501817_10154159653265435_2291324175792778665_nOn Wednesday, the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means was scheduled to mark up and vote on H.R. 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA). Instead, in a disappointing turn of events, the bill was pulled from consideration and postponed as a result of opposition from several national employee associations. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson followed the developments closely this week and reported on them here, here, and here.

If H.R. 711 does not pass, public education employees will continue to be subjected to the punitive Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that can reduce personal Social Security benefits by over $400 per month. If H.R. 711 passes, a fairer formula, one that considers a worker’s entire career and earnings history, will be used to calculate benefits. Further, retirees would receive a benefit increase and the average future retiree would have benefits increased by an average of $900 per year.

ATPE remains dedicated to ensuring Texas educators receive fair and quality benefits in retirement, and we will continue to work with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) on increasing benefits for current and future retirees by passing H.R. 711. Stay tuned for future updates.


The United States Capitol building

The United States Capitol building

In other federal education news this week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held its fifth of six expected Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) implementation oversight hearings, and the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations held a mark up of the appropriations bill that funds the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

This week’s Senate HELP hearing on ESSA implementation was focused on the Department’s accountability rule proposal. As we reported when it was released, the proposal requires states to have accountability systems in place by the 2017-18 school year, with the goal for states and districts to begin identifying schools in need of support in the following school year. This proposed timeline is unsettling to most because it identifies struggling schools based on data derived from early implementation efforts, rather than data collected once the new state accountability systems are fully implemented. Some also caution that it doesn’t allow enough time for states to truly innovate in their new systems. All of the witnesses invited to share input at this week’s hearing and most senators agreed that delaying the timeline by a year would be beneficial.

Another point of contention in the proposal was the department’s decision to require an overall summative score, rather than allowing states to provide dashboards of information on schools and districts, which provide a more comprehensive look at school accountability. ED is accepting comments on the rule proposal through August 1, and we will continue to provide updates on the proposal as they develop.

In the other chamber of Congress, the House Appropriations Committee marked up its version of the 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) funding bill, which includes education funding. The bill funds the Department of Education at $67 billion, a $1.3 billion decrease compared to the previous year’s appropriation. Federal special education funding, however, increased by $500 million compared to the previous level, and the bill includes $1 billion for the student support and academic enrichment grants, authorized under ESSA.

Due to the inclusion of party-specific initiatives and disagreements on funding levels, the appropriations bill mostly broke down on partisan lines. Still, the committee reported the bill favorably to the House floor where it now awaits debate and a vote from the full House. The Senate is simultaneously working on its own version of the funding legislation.


Little girl sitting on stack of books.In a story published this week by the Texas Tribune, Kiah Collier reports that a number of Texas school districts (more than 20) have turned down the funding they were to receive under the high quality prekindergarten grant program.

We reported last week that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced it had parceled out a total of $116 million to 578 Texas school systems that qualified as grant recipients. We noted at that time that “considering the money is to be dispersed among a large number of school systems, the per pupil dollar amount will be telling in terms of how far the state needs to go to invest in quality and meaningful early education.” According to the Tribune‘s story, per pupil spending under the program totals $367 per year, a fraction of the $1,500 per student originally expected, and districts are turning down the grant because it will not cover the cost of implementing required quality control measures.

Read the full story for more on this latest prekindergarten development.


16_Web_SummitSpotlightThe ATPE governmental relations team is ready for the ATPE Summit and looks forward to seeing participating ATPE members next week! We hope you will stop by the Advocacy Booth in the ATPE Lounge on Wednesday night to say hello and pick up a variety of advocacy resources. We will be there to answer questions and visit with members from 4 to 7 pm on July 20.

Immediately following, you can find us at the 70s-themed dance party! We will be promoting the ATPE-PAC and selling a fun, tie-dyed t-shirt. Speaking of PAC, if you are an ATPE member and you’re coming to the ATPE Summit, be sure to check out our new online auction. Bidding is open now and your voluntary donations will go toward supporting pro-public education candidates through the ATPE-PAC.

The lobby team will also present advocacy updates during the professional development and leadership training sessions on Thursday. We will offer two general advocacy update sessions that will highlight the latest developments in state and federal education policy. Our team will also moderate in a separate session a conversation with ATPE members Jimmy Lee and Casey Hubbard regarding their recent experiences serving as education advocates in their local communities.

Get ready for an educational, productive, and fun-filled week! We hope to see you there!


 

Social Security Update: Hearing tomorrow in D.C. on H.R. 711

The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee announced that its members will be hearing and voting on H.R. 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA), on Wednesday, July 13, at 1 pm. As we have reported in the past, the bill was filed by Congressman Kevin Brady of The Woodlands, Texas, who now chairs the committee.

The ETPSA would repeal the existing arbitrary and punitive Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and replace it with a new, fairer formula to calculate Social Security benefits for retirees who receive a separate government pension, such as through the Teacher Retirement System. The new formula would acknowledge the portion of a person’s career that they paid into Social Security, and as such ensure that benefits reflect one’s actual contributions, instead of simply having an arbitrary penalty applied to benefits as exists with the current formula.

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Brady discussed the ETPSA with ATPE state officers and lobbyists last month in Washington.

If H.R. 711 passes the committee, it will be sent to the full House of Representatives to be deliberated. This is the most promising Social Security reform we have seen since the WEP was initially put into law in 1983.

ATPE has long advocated for increasing public education employees’ benefits and for using a more equitable system of calculating Social Security benefits. A coalition of employee and retiree associations from across the country, including ATPE, the Texas Retired Teachers Association, and AARP, have worked alongside Chairman Brady to increase benefits and eliminate the WEP; H.R. 711 is a step in the right direction.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on tomorrow’s markup of the bill.

ATPE concludes week of meetings in Washington, DC

A contingent of ATPE state officers and staff joined the ATPE federal relations team in Washington this week for meetings on Capitol Hill and with the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The team was also present to watch U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King testify before Congress on the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

image1ATPE State President Cory Colby, State Vice President Julleen Bottoms, Executive Director Gary Godsey, Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, and federal lobbyists were primarily focused on two areas of discussion. In meetings with ED and the Senate and House education committees, the group discussed ESSA implementation, offering perspectives from Texas classrooms and thanking the policymakers and regulators for their work on the new law. ATPE highlighted input provided to both Congress and the Department and expressed a commitment to actively engage as a stakeholder as Texas works to implement the law at the state and local levels.

Chairman Brady Group ShotThe ATPE representatives were also in Washington to discuss H.R. 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA). ETPSA is a bill by Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) that repeals the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) for Social Security benefits, replacing it with a new and fairer formula. ATPE met with key members of the Texas congressional delegation to discuss the bill and explain how the WEP unfairly affects educators who are eligible for both Social Security and government pensions (such as through the Texas Retirement System). Learn more about ETPSA here.

ESSA hearingSecretary King was on Capitol Hill Thursday morning to answer questions from members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce about the implementation of ESSA, and ATPE had front row seats. The Republican-controlled committee stayed focused on its ongoing concern that ED’s regulatory work to date exceeds its authority. Members of the committee asserted that the Department is stepping beyond the intent of the law and could even be setting itself up for a losing lawsuit. Secretary King’s response was also nothing new. He stood firm in his stance that he possesses the authority and is committed to advancing equity through regulations.

Julleen and Gary at hearingThe hearing was primarily focused on ED’s recently released proposed accountability rule and proposed language on the issue of supplement, not supplant. Secretary King was followed by a panel of education professionals and stakeholders. Many of the witnesses echoed members’ concerns regarding the ED proposals, but it was also expressed that strong regulations are needed to ensure equity under the law. Secretary King will be back on the Hill next week to discuss ESSA implementation with the Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP).

Read ATPE’s 2016 Federal Priorities for more information on ATPE’s focus at the federal level and stay tuned for more federal updates.