Federal News Network: The latest legislative attempt to get a better retirement deal for certain feds

FEDERAL NEWS NETWORK, TOM TEMIN

Two Social Security provisions have long rankled federal employees and others in public service. One is called the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). The other is the Government Pension Offset (GPO). They were established decades ago on the idea that for a portion of their careers, people with certain jobs were not covered by Social Security. Now a bipartisan House bill would revoke WEP and GPO. For details, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin with Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin
And tell us exactly what this bill would do, precisely.

Abigail Spanberger
Absolutely. So more than 50,000 Virginians are impacted by these provisions. You mentioned them, the WEP, the GPO. And what it means in reality is that so many retirees here in Virginia and across the country, are seeing reduced payments through Social Security because of these provisions. So the Social Security Fairness Act basically recognizes the sacrifice that these federal public servants have made, and it eliminates these provisions that reduces their payment. We’ve got more than 158 co-sponsors since we just introduced it again, this Congress. And just for kind of context, in terms of what we’re talking about in terms of reduction, the Windfall Elimination Provision reduces a public servants retirement benefits by up to about $500 per month. And that’s $500 per month that employee, that retiree would otherwise be eligible for, if not, for this provision. The Government Pension Offset, this relates to spouses and survivor benefits through the Social Security program. And in some cases, survivors of federal employers are receiving a benefit that can be reduced by up to two-thirds of their monthly pension, for what they should have had their late spouse not been a federal employee subject to this GPO. It’s very real, in terms of the impact on individuals.

Tom Temin
Sure. And beyond Virginia, there’s about 2 million federal retirees, your estimate is that are affected by these? And there’s another, close to a million, that come under the GPO?

Abigail Spanberger
Yeah, that’s right.

Tom Temin
All right. And would this apply to people now retired, they would get a bump? Or is it for people that are under these provisions from the past, and when they retire, it’ll kick in.

Abigail Spanberger
So this would if the bill were to pass tomorrow, it would go into effect next year. And so that would mean that moving forward anyone who’s previously seen reductions in their benefits, would see that full amount if it’s the $500 per month in the case of WEP, or up to a two-thirds reduction in the case of GPO, they would see that change immediately beginning next year.

Tom Temin
And by the way, is there a Congressional Budget Office score for this one? Do we have any idea what the total cost to the government would be? I can’t imagine it’s that vast.

Abigail Spanberger
The scoring on this, and I’ll get you the exact numbers. But when we’re looking at issues of fairness, so we shouldn’t be looking to reduce payouts on the backs of federal employees as a gimmick by which we’re trying to potentially reduce outbound dollars. But this all comes from within the Social Security program. These are dollars that people paid into the program, paid into Social Security. And now we’re not being able to receive the benefits that they are, if they had had the same job, but in the private sector that they would be eligible for. So there is a minor impact on Social Security, in terms of the timeframe of kind of trajectory, as it relates to social security’s long-term viability and stability. But that’s another conversation as well. There are, clearly we need to make sure that into decades, into the future Social Security is a strong program and fulfilling its promise. But trying to eke out dollars here or there, as it relates to the retirement benefits that federal employees are getting or retired public school teachers or retired firefighters. That’s not the way that we try to save money for Social Security, because these individuals paid into it and they should be able to get it out the same way that someone in the private sector or in a similar job function outside of the government would have been able to do, and as somebody outside of the government is able to do.

Tom Temin
We’re speaking with Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, who represents Virginia’s Seventh District. And you bring up a point, I think is often missed. I think the assumption is that people that had those jobs back then, like [Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS)] employees, did not get Social Security but did not pay into it either. But you’re saying that people actually did pay into Social Security for those covered jobs, but are getting the reduction in the payout.

Abigail Spanberger
That’s right. And so it’s a reduction in the payout based on calculations for the GPO for the WEP, but the bill is rather simply title The Social Security Fairness Act, because people paid into these systems, and paid into these programs and they’re seeing their benefits cut. And it shouldn’t be, it is in a really significant detriment to people who dedicated their lives to public service, as federal employees or as firefighters or police officers or public school teachers.

Tom Temin
And just a technical question, for the average person in the private sector, what you get in Social Security at the end of working life is proportional to what you paid in. So how will this all be figured? Is that something that’s going to be incumbent on Social Security to go back through their payment histories, which they have on record there, and then determine what their actual payout will be henceforth?

Abigail Spanberger
The functionality is, if the bill were to pass the House tomorrow, then move forward in the Senate get to the President’s desk. And again, we have more than 250 co-sponsors. Last Congress, we had gotten close to 300. So we know if the bill were to come before the House of Representatives, it would pass we’re working to build back up our co-sponsorship, but it would go into effect next year. And essentially, it would just remove those provisions that are subtracting dollars out of somebody’s Social Security payments. So there are not a lot of extravagant calculations that need to be made. It’s no longer deducting unfairly, because of this WEP provision or this GPO provision.

Tom Temin
Got it. OK. And speaking of those number of co-sponsors, these are both sides of the aisle that are behind this?

Abigail Spanberger
That’s right, this bill is wholly bipartisan. I’ve previously worked with my co-lead, Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), he left Congress at the end of last Congress, and Garret Graves (R-La.), who has been an incredibly supportive member of Congress on this issue, Republican from Louisiana, he’s now taken up the helm. And so Garrett and I have partnered on this. And we have Democrats, Republicans, people across the country, across the political spectrum, supporting this legislation. Again, last year, last Congress, we got up to about 300 co-sponsors in total, and this Congress, we’re working to do the same. So it is wholly bipartisan, frankly, because people across the country, Republicans, Democrats, nonpartisans, East Coast, West Coast, and everywhere across the country are impacted by these provisions. And this Social Security Fairness Act would rectify that, for so many of the people that we represent.

Tom Temin
And what about the Senate?

Abigail Spanberger
So we’re working to make sure that it’ll move forward in the Senate. But I think, certainly, the the thing I can control is the number of co-sponsors that we get in the House side. And anyone, frankly, who is aware of this issue that wants to do advocacy to their senators, certainly that’s an encouraging effort to take on. But unfortunately, we have, despite the co-sponsorship being unable to get this bill a vote in the House. But our goal is to get this bill a vote for the House, and with a resounding level of bipartisan support, make sure that it’s basically raising the attention, and garnering the attention of so many senators. Certainly looking at the level of bipartisan support that it receives among House members, the path would be clear for many of their senators, from their states to also support. But we’re working in concert to try and garner additional support on the Senate side. But really, it’s a matter of getting a vote in the House first on this.

Tom Temin
Right. And there are so many priorities, right now. You’re all arguing about the debt limit and the debt ceiling, and people are already talking about things they want to put in the National Defense Authorization Act. It’s pretty busy, it’s only just about March at this point, but yet, you know how the time goes. So you’re optimistic this session, there will be a vote?

Abigail Spanberger
I am optimistic this session. Notably, the debt ceiling and avoiding catastrophe by ensuring that we do not default as a nation should be everyone’s top priority. But Congress should be able to do multiple things at a time, and certainly, working on the National Defense Authorization Act, working on the farm bill, both of which are must pass a piece of legislation this Congress, that is work that must be done and will be done. But it can’t be used as an excuse for not taking a vote on a piece of legislation that, frankly, has received so much support in the past for a piece of legislation. We know the votes are there. And a piece of legislation that matters, it matters to people who are retired now, it matters to people who are on Social Security now. And it is an issue that is urgent, and one that I’m going to continue pushing for.

Tom Temin
And this is one where, clearly, the federal employee unions would support it, but this support goes way up the ranks to the higher level people, because in that sense, everybody’s in the same boat with the WEP and the GPO.

Abigail Spanberger
This is a piece of legislation that has received support, certainly from the federal unions and employee organizations, localized organizations of firefighters and teachers. In fact, among the best advocates on Capitol Hill, the Capitol police officers, in their off duty time lobby for this, because their retirees are impacted by it, as well. So it’s across the board advocacy groups for federal employees, as well as state employees continue their advocacy, because this is an issue that impacts public servants across the country.

Recent Posts


Jun 17, 2024
Local Issues

NEW MILESTONE: Spanberger’s Office Returns More Than $39 Million in Federal Benefits to Virginians

Since the Start of 2019, the Congresswoman’s Office Has Returned More Than $39 Million in Backlogged IRS Refunds, Social Security Checks, VA Benefits, & More WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger announced today that her office has now returned more than $39 million in federal casework funds to residents of Virginia’s Seventh District. Casework dollars […]



Jun 14, 2024
Press

Spanberger Statement on Supreme Court Ruling to Strike Down Federal Bump Stock Ban

Congresswoman: “As a Former Federal Law Enforcement Officer, I Know that Weapons Designed to Inflict Maximum Casualties Do Not Belong on Our Streets, in Our Schools, or in Our Communities” WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger today released the following statement following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Garland v. Cargill, which overturns a […]



Jun 14, 2024
Gun Safety

During National Gun Violence Awareness Month, Spanberger Urges Speaker Johnson to Bring Bipartisan Bills to U.S. House Floor to Prevent Gun Violence

Congresswoman: “I Used To Carry A Gun Every Single Day — I Know What It Is To Be A Responsible Gun Owner” WASHINGTON, D.C. — On the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger — a Member of the U.S. House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force — urged Speaker Johnson to […]