Congressman Neal Charts Path Forward on WEP Reform

September 2020: More than 3,400 reform bill H.R.4540 in retirees joined a live Tele-Town Hall event on June 24th to hear a first-hand update on activities in Washington, DC from Congressman Richard Neal (D-Springfield, MA). Of course, the main focus was news surrounding the ongoing efforts to reform the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). 

Neal kicked off the hour- long meeting by reaffirming his personal commitment to reforming the WEP, as well as his desire to pass his reform bill H.R. 4540. As the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Neal is a senior member of the Congressional leadership. 

During the extensive question and answer session, Neal explained what he envisions to be the most likely path forward to pass a reform bill in 2020. Later this year, Congress is scheduled to pass several appropriation bills that fund the operations of the federal government and US military. Such bills, often referred to as “must pass” legislation, offer a viable method to pass WEP reform. 

As members know, WEP reform is not a partisan issue. The position taken by US Congressmen and US Senators is most often determined by which state they represent, with those from states with high numbers of public retirees impacted by the WEP more likely to support reform or repeal of the law. 

Filed in late September, H.R.4540 has 144 cosponsors. The bill would restore up to $150 a month in relief for those retirees subject to the WEP prior to January 1, 2022. This would impact public retirees age 62 or older who are eligible for Social Security (have at least 40 quarters). The bill also creates a new Social Security benefit formula for future retirees, which would more accurately calculate payments into the Social Security system vs. payments made to an alternative system like our Mass. public pension plans.

Read a full summary of H.R. 4540 by clicking here.

“The high number of members who participated in this meeting speaks to how important the issue of WEP reform is to public retirees. 

As it now stands, some 73,000 MA retirees have seen their Social Security benefits reduced by the WEP. Nationally, the number is close to 2 million retirees and growing,” explains Mass Retirees CEO Shawn Duhamel. “I want to thank Chairman Neal for taking the time to hear directly from our members, as well as answer their questions. He and his staff have put an extraordinary amount of time and effort into devel- oping H.R.4540. I know that they want it passed into law just as badly as our members. 

“A common question we get is why a bill is taking so long to pass, as well as why the WEP cannot be repealed altogether. If this was an easy issue to fix, it would have happened decades ago. The fact is that the WEP is not only complicated, but also not everyone agrees that it should be changed. This is especially true of the US Senate, where 60 votes are typically needed in order for a bill to pass.” 

Neal went on to explain that he continues to work closely with his Republican counterpart Kevin Brady (R-TX), who has filed a WEP Reform bill of his own that is very similar to that filed by Neal. 

“The worse thing we could do right now would be to push a bill through the House on a partisan vote, 

only to have it die in the Republican- controlled US Senate. It has been a longtime coming and we all want to see a bill pass. However, far too much work has gone into develop- ing H.R.4540 to have it suffer a defeat and end up taking a step backward,” adds Legislative Chairman Tom Bonarrigo. “WEP is not a partisan issue. The key right now is passing a compromise bill that puts money back in the pockets of retirees ASAP. Not only is Neal’s bill indexed to inflation, but it represents a starting point that can be improved upon going forward. 

“Every effort continues to be made to pass a bill in 2020. This includes working closely with all 9 members of our Congressional delegation, as well as the national Public Retirees Alliance. We need to keep the pressure on Congress, particularly across the other 49 states.” 

In addition to his comments on WEP reform, Chairman Neal also spent time speaking about the Congressional response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, Neal addressed the need to help those directly impacted by the economic fallout caused by the pandemic. This includes unemployment benefits, federal stimulus, and assistance for state and local governments.