Progress Continues on WEP Reform

Obama Reignites GPO Debate

MARCH 1, 2016: Association officials joined our Texas counterparts on Monday for a series of meetings in Washington DC aimed at consolidating support for the passage legislation reforming the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

As members know, our Association is a key member of a national coalition working for the passage of HR711 during the current Congressional session. HR711 is cosponsored by Congressmen Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Richard Neal (D-MA). Last November Brady was elevated to chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, making him one of the most powerful members of Congress. As dean of the nine-member Mass. House delegation, Neal is also a senior member of Congress and ranking Democrat on Ways and Means.

Our Association has worked closely with Brady and Neal for many years in an effort to reform both the regressive WEP and Government Pension Offset (GPO) laws. HR711 would repeal the current WEP law and replace it with a new Social Security calculation that more fairly and accurately determines a retiree’s Social Security benefit. It is funded through changes about to take place with the Social Security Administration in 2017, whereby the federal agency will more stringently enforce the accuracy of benefits paid to all retirees and survivors.

All nine members of the Mass. Congressional delegation are cosponsers of HR711 and actively working for the bill's passage this session.

On this recent trip our team met with leaders from the AARP, AFSCME, IAFF and NARFE seeking each organization’s support for HR711. While support for the bill continues to build within Congress, it is important to receive the endorsement of these important national organizations.

“What can be easy to overlook is the fact that WEP and GPO are national issues, impacting some 7 million public retirees and employees across the country. Gaining the support of the AARP and International Association of Fire Fighters is critical,” explained Legislative Director Shawn Duhamel. “Our meetings were highly productive and we seem closer than ever to actually getting something done on the WEP. Groups like the IAFF have raised some legitimate concerns on what happens to retirees with 30 years under Social Security. We have to make sure no one is harmed in the process of fixing WEP.

“Together, we’re now working with Chairman Brady and the Ways and Means staff to clarify and fix any potential problems in advance. Hopefully we’ll soon be at a point where our allies can offer their full support. In the meantime, we can focus on trying to address the GPO” 

President’s 2017 Budget Plan

Tucked away within the details of President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for 2017 - the final budget plan of his presidency - are two unexpected provisions relating to WEP, as well as the Government Pension Offset (GPO). Both provisions are highly technical, but appear to offer relief from both laws via a formula similar to that offered by HR711. However, Obama’s proposal only covers future retirees and not those already retired and receiving reduced Social Security benefits.

Most significant is the fact that the President has opened the door for a potential GPO fix during the current Congressional session. Until recently, Congressional leaders had stated their preference for addressing the two laws separately. The WEP applies to a retiree’s own Social Security benefit, which is based upon their personal work history. GPO applies to spousal benefits for those applying for Social Security under their spouses work history and not their own.

“It’s too early to tell if we will be able to include a GPO fix in the same legislation addressing the WEP, but the President has certainly reignited the debate in a very positive manner. What it comes down to is the cost of doing both,” says Tom Lussier, our Washington DC consutant. “We’re now speaking with Social Security and the Ways and Means Committee staff to see what such a fix might look like and at what cost. If there is a way to fix both issues at once, we’ll certainly jump on it. I know how important both WEP and GPO are to Mass Retirees.”

Association officials expect to receive an update on the progress of HR711 in mid-March.