Tag Archives: government pension offset (GPO)

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.

New tools help educators calculate Social Security benefits after WEP or GPO reductions

Retirement planning written on a notepad.One of the most common questions I get from members calling in to the ATPE state office for guidance is about how their TRS pension will affect their ability to draw either their own or their spouse’s Social Security benefits. When I get these questions I always find myself walking the member through the intricacies of one or both of the provisions in federal law that can reduce the Social Security benefits they would otherwise receive. Additional information about these offsets, the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), can be found here on ATPE’s website.

Up until now, I have been able to explain to ATPE members how the WEP and GPO may affect them, but I haven’t been able to provide them with any direct resources that would show them what their personal Social Security benefits are likely to look like after being reduced by one of these offsets, until now. I recently learned of a new suite of online calculators that have been made available by the federal Social Security Administration on its website that allow the public to get a better understanding of what their Social Security benefit will look like. Two of these calculators are specifically designed to help educators and people subject to either GPO or WEP reductions to determine their remaining Social Security benefit.

The calculators are fairly simple and straightforward to use, but you will need some information about your personal Social Security savings that you can find on your Social Security statement. You’ll also need to have information about your TRS pension that you can get from TRS either by calling the agency, using the MyTRS member portal, or looking on your TRS statement.

You can find the WEP calculator here and the GPO calculator here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 14, 2017

The ATPE state office is closed today in observance of Good Friday. We’ll be back Monday with full coverage of the 85th Legislature and other advocacy news. Here are highlights from this week:

 


Retirement planning written on a notepad.

On Thursday, April 13, the Texas House Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility heard testimony about Social Security offsets in federal law that negatively affect many educators. The hearing was on HCR 101 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) urging Congress to repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) of the Social Security Act. Learn more about the offsets in current law and how they affect educators here. Although the Texas Legislature does not have the authority to change federal laws, such as those governing Social Security, the measure would be a statement of support from Texas lawmakers for changing the GPO and WEP, which both have the effect of reducing many educators’ benefits. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was among the witnesses who testified for the bill, which was left pending.

 


Last legislative session, ATPE supported a bill by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) to create alternative pathways for eligible students to graduate without necessarily having passed all required STAAR tests. The law allowing for individual graduation committees to evaluate students’ post-secondary readiness is set to expire on Sept. 1 of this year unless extended. A number of bills have been filed this session to remove the expiration date on the law, including Sen. Seliger’s Senate Bill (SB) 463, which the Senate Education Committee heard this week. Learn more about the legislation, which ATPE supports, in this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


Both the House Public Education Committee and Senate Education Committee held meetings this week to discuss numerous education-related bills. Hot topics included educator preparation and certification requirements, reporting teacher misconduct, virtual schools, and special education services. For a complete wrap-up of this week’s hearings, check out these blog posts by ATPE’s lobbyists:

 


Girl showing bank notesNext week in the Texas Legislature, the House of Representatives has scheduled a floor debate for Wednesday, April 19, on House Bill (HB) 21. That’s the high-profile school finance reform bill by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) that we’ve written about here on our blog. The Senate Education Committee is also hearing a number of bills dealing with school finance during its next hearing on Tuesday, April 18.

Over in the House Public Education Committee, next Tuesday’s meeting will cover proposed legislation on broad topics ranging from curriculum standards to UIL. The House committee will also consider HB 306 by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio), a companion bill to SB 179 that would create “David’s Law” aimed at curbing cyberbullying and harassment that leads to suicide. ATPE offered support for the Senate version of the bill during a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing last week.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) is also meeting next week. Its four-day meeting begins Tuesday and will feature testimony and discussions of proposed changes to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for science and English language arts and reading. View the complete SBOE agenda here and stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog and @TeachtheVote on Twitter next week for updates.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 18, 2015

Happy Friday! Here’s a review of some education stories that made the news this week.


This week ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson provided an update on our efforts to address federal laws that reduce educators’ Social Security benefits. Sanderson writes, “The cost of completely repealing the GPO and WEP has proven to be prohibitive, and no federal legislation that would repeal either provision has ever been successful.” However, working alongside U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) and the Texas Retired Teachers Association, ATPE is lobbying in D.C. for a bill that Sanderson explains “would repeal the existing arbitrary WEP formula and replace it with one that actually reflects the contributions employees have made to Social Security.”


We republished an article yesterday from The Texas Tribune‘s Kiah Collier about the pending school finance litigation. Collier writes that “the consensus among experts and insiders is that a decision will come early next year and likely will require a 2016 special legislative session because it will favor, at least in part, the 600 school districts suing the state. That could mean that a school finance fix is in place before the next school year.” The article also discusses the impact of the 2016 elections on the timing of such a ruling and a possible special session.


Don’t forget that the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is still accepting public comments on its proposal to allow superintendents to become certified despite having no prior experience as a teacher or principal. You may submit written comments via e-mail to SBEC now through Oct. 5. Click here for more details.


View additional stories you may have missed from Teach the VoteATPE, and other public education supporters on social media this week:

Tweets for 9-18-15 wrap-up

 

Your benefits: Social Security update

Texas public school employees are among a unique group of public servants subject to a set of provisions in federal law very few people ever come in contact with, and even fewer actually know much about. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) affects spousal benefits, and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) alters the calculation of personal Social Security benefits. Both of these laws generally apply to those who are eligible for a government pension based on employment where they did not contribute to Social Security.

Godsey, Wiggins, Brady, Colby, and Gregg

ATPE visited Washington, D.C. recently to discuss Social Security legislation. Pictured (left to right) are ATPE’s Executive Director Gary Godsey, State Past President Richard Wiggins, Congressman Kevin Brady, State President Cory Colby, and Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg.

ATPE has long worked to repeal both of these provisions, the GPO and the WEP, in federal law. We have been successful in helping to get legislation filed and supported by a majority of U.S. House members in several Congresses. However, the cost of completely repealing the GPO and WEP has proven to be prohibitive, and no federal legislation that would repeal either provision has ever been successful.

Recently, ATPE has worked alongside the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) and Texas Congressman Kevin Brady (R) to pursue legislation that would repeal the existing arbitrary WEP formula and replace it with one that actually reflects the contributions employees have made to Social Security. Brady’s Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2015 (H.R. 711) would create a new formula to reduce the punitive effects of the WEP by up to one-third (an average of $1,034 per year) for current retirees and as much as one-half ($1,620 per year on average) for future retirees.  A bipartisan list of 40 congressmen has signed on to cosponsor H.R. 711, which has no cost to the Social Security Trust Fund. Considering that no WEP-related legislation that would benefit employees has ever gained momentum in the past, this is a very significant step forward toward increasing public school employees’ benefits.

Unfortunately, one of the largest national teachers unions recently made the decision to oppose H.R. 711 claiming the rationale that Brady’s legislation does not achieve full repeal of the WEP. While we do agree that full repeal would be preferred, ATPE believes it is a mistake to ignore the political realities that have stalled legislation to achieve that goal for far too long. Continuing to insist on full repeal or nothing at all is done at the peril of those who are affected by the WEP. Any realistic improvement that will increase educator Social Security benefits is much-welcomed, and as such we at ATPE will work to see that those benefits are increased in any way possible while maintaining the long-term goal of fully repealing both the WEP and GPO.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act, as well as other legislation that affects public education.