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HEARING: W&M Members Working to Ensure America’s Teachers and First Responders Receive Equal Treatment

March 22, 2016

Ways and Means members held a hearing today to review reforms to two well-intended but flawed Social Security policies that have unfairly impacted millions of American workers, families, and retirees.

As Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) said:

Hardworking Americans who have paid into Social Securityshould have their benefits calculated fairly. And they deserve to know how much they can expect to receive from Social Security. But unfortunately for many of our teachers, firefighters, police officers, and others, that’s not the case.”

Known as the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), these policies arbitrarily reduce Social Security benefits for teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public servants who also receive pension benefits. Not only is this one-size-fits-all approach to calculating benefits unfair, it also creates confusion and makes it difficult for workers to plan for retirement.

While these policies were the best Congress could do at the time they were created, they are no longer serving the best interests of Social Security beneficiaries and taxpayers.

Describing the negative, unintended consequences of WEP and GPO, Tim Lee – Executive Director of the Texas Retired Teachers Association, the largest association for retired public and higher education employees – said:

“For current retirees impacted by these provisions, it can mean hundreds of dollars a month lost in much–needed Social Security benefits. For the private sector employee contemplating a career shift into public education, the impact is the future benefit loss felt after years in another field. And, for those contemplating education as a career from the beginning, the provisions provide arguments against entering the profession at all.”

Personal stories like the ones Mr. Lee described are exactly why Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX), along with Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), introduced the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (H.R. 711). The proposal repeals WEP and replaces it with a proportional approach to calculating benefits, treating all workers – public and private – the same.

As Chairman Brady explained:

“Since 2004, I have worked to repeal the WEP and replace it with a formula that treats our firefighters, police officers, teachers, and other affected workers fairly … Under our approach … No more unfair formula for teachers, firefighters and police officers. Instead, we use the same benefit formula for everyone, looking at all earnings.”

Replacing WEP with a proportional approach has received broad bipartisan support – including support from President Obama, who included a similar proposal in his Budget for Fiscal Year 2017.

As Samara Richardson, Acting Associate Commissioner, Office of Income Security Programs at the Social Security Administration, explained the two proposals embrace the same formula, but differ on how the formula should be implemented. Whereas the President proposed a 10-year timeline, Chairman Brady and Rep. Neal proposed the immediate transition to a proportional formula.

Explaining the urgent need to repeal and replace WEP and GPO as soon as possible, Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), noted:

“Under the President’s proposal, we’ve heard [these provisions] won’t be fixed for ten years. That’s an awful long time when we have the data to fix it starting next year in order to provide a solution for [public workers and retirees].”

When Rep. Renacci asked how a 10-year delay would help those affected by WEP and GPO, Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center, Jason Fichtnerreplied:

The delay actually wouldn’t help … If we delay making this change until 2027 instead of 2017 … we are basically delaying giving them the benefit they deserve. And, again, justice delayed is just justice denied.”

Concluding his remarks, Chairman Brady explained the importance of this conversation in advancing a commonsense solution:

“As Speaker Ryan has said, here in the House, we are returning to regular order. Today is an important step in the process, having a hearing to talk about a problem and some ways to fix it.”

The Ways and Means Committee will continue to move towards a solution that makes sure everyone is treated equally.