WEP Reform Moves Forward on Bumpy Road

Disagreement Among Advocates Raise Concern

SEPTEMBER 2016 VOICE: A week in July that began with the promise of legislation reforming the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)  advancing in Congress, has instead ended with the bill suffering a setback.

Association officials spent significant time in Washington, DC, working side-by-side with coalition partners from Texas in an effort to advance WEP reform through Congress this year.

H.R. 711, federal legislation backed by our Association and a nationwide coalition of public retiree associations, retirement systems and unions, was scheduled to be released favorably and “marked up” by the House Committee on Ways and Means on  July 13. The markup would have placed H.R. 711 on track to be voted on in the US House in September.

The bill balances relief for current retirees impacted by the WEP, with changing the Social Security formula to accurately calculate benefits for future retirees on employment covered by Social Security vs. non-covered employment (public sector work outside of Social Security). Savings generated by the change in the Social Security formula for future eligible retirees would be used to pay for increased benefits for current retirees.

In anticipation of the bill being approved by Ways and Means on July 13, Legislative Director Shawn Duhamel joined Tim Lee of the Texas Retired Teachers Association and spent, the day before, meeting with members of the Committee and their staff in an attempt to shore up support.

However, with the release of a redrafted H.R. 711 on the day before the hearing, disagreement broke out between the bill’s advocates and some public employee unions representing active employees. The nature of the disagreement rests on the delicate balance between crafting a new benefit formula that is fair to both current and future retirees.

On the day of the hearing, Association President Frank Valeri and our federal consultant Tom Lussier joined Lee and Duhamel for direct conversations with the bill’s sponsors, along with senior Ways and Means staff.

As the impasse deepened, a decision was made by the bill’s sponsors, just moments before the hearing was to begin, to pull H.R. 711 back from markup and allow time for stakeholders to work through their differences.

At the outset of the hearing, Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX), who is the bill’s chief sponsor, publicly called for retiree and employee advocates to utilize the summer Congressional recess to work together on solutions that will improve the bill.

Brady’s plea was echoed by lead cosponsor Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA), who made it clear that he believes H.R. 711 is a sound and fair proposal providing equal treatment for all Social Security beneficiaries – current and future retirees. Neal went on to thank our Association and praised our efforts on behalf of public retirees.

“Given the circumstances, it was a wise decision to delay the release of the bill. While any setback is certainly a disappointment, we have two cosponsors who remain firmly committed to resolving the issue of WEP this session,” said Valeri. “I cannot thank Richie Neal and Kevin Brady enough for the support and hard work that has gone into this bill. They have not waivered and neither will we.”