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The Voice of the Retired Public Employee
WEP
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Mass Retirees’ position to reform both the WEP and GPO has univer- sal support from Massachusetts’ nine Congressmen and two Senators.
While retirees from CA, CO, IL, LA, OH, MA and TX are often thought of as the most impacted by the WEP, the fact is that segments of public retirees in all fifty states are victimized. Nationwide, nearly two- thirds of all teachers, fire fighters and police officers are impacted by WEP and its related law the Government Pension Offset (GPO).
At the start of 2017, Congressional sponsors opted not to refile H.R. 711, but instead, they planned to attach the proposal as a rider to a so-called “must pass” piece of legislation. Tra- ditionally, under normal circum- stances, this plan would be carried through without fan fair or trouble.
“Unfortunately, there is nothing normal about what has gone on in Washington, D.C. or national politics over the past sixteen months. Regardless of whether or not you support President Trump there is no disputing the fact that his presidency has deepened the political divisions and created a circus atmosphere in Washington,” explains Legislative Director Shawn Duhamel, who is the Mass Retirees point-person on federal issues. “Very little legislation has been passed by this Congress, with the exception being the head- line grabbing tax cut, budget and appropriations bills.
“We would have loved to see the WEP form proposal attached to any one of those marquee bills. But either the rules of the Senate did not allow for it (tax bill and budget) or the politics of the moment were not favorable to our side. Where that leaves us, now that we’re in the spring before a pivotal mid-term election, remains to be seen.”
What’s the Holdup?
A frequent question from impacted
retirees is why is it so difficult to reform the WEP and GPO laws?
Efforts to do so began in the early 1980s, following the laws’ inclusion in the 1983 Social Security Reform Act. Back then WEP and GPO were small parts of this expansive federal law created as a compromise between President Ronald Reagan, House Speaker Tip O’Neill and Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker.
For the past 36 years, WEP and GPO have been the law of the land. However, since retirees and employ- ees who were eligible for retirement at that time were exempt, the full impact of the law was not realized until the late 1990s. In addition, the US Supreme Court has ruled that Congress has the sole legal authority to establish benefit eligibility and criteria under Social Security.
“We were among the first to say these laws were a bad idea back in 1983. Since then we’ve been a key part of the national fight to either repeal or reform WEP and GPO ever since,” recalls former Associ- ation President and Mass Retirees founder Ralph White. “I under- stand the anger and disgust that exists amongst retirees. But the one thing we cannot do is to give up. Maybe it’s the old combat Marine in me, but we will never stop fighting for what is right. We know these laws are unjust and we have to keep the pressure on Con- gress until we win.”
Despite efforts by Mass Retirees and our national coalition (which includes both the powerful AARP and NRTA), WEP and GPO reform does not enjoy universal support throughout the Congress. Support or opposition is often determined by which state or part of the country the elected official represents.
“It is hard to grasp, but there are some members of Congress who oppose what we are trying to do. Some believe that the WEP and the GPO are justified. And we also have some members of Congress who
WEP / GPO GENESIS: Signing of 1983 Social Security Reform Act by President Ronald Reagan with House Speaker Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts
believe that our reform compromise does not go far enough. They are in the minority, but they would rather keep fighting for full repeal,” says Tim Lee of the Texas Retired Teach- ers Association, a key Mass Retirees ally. “Believe me when I say that our 88,000 Texas retirees are just as angry and hurt by these laws as are our colleagues in Massachusetts. Collectively, we’re going to keep working together doing all we can to pass a bill, preferably in 2018. The last thing we’re going to do is give up – that is not something that’s in the DNA of our retirees here in the Lone Star State!”
Mass Retirees continues to make every effort to find a path forward to pass a reform bill in 2018. In that vein, we recently met with Massa- chusetts Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy, III to discuss Congres- sional strategy.
“First off, Joe Kennedy and the rest of our Massachusetts delegation know more about the ins and outs of these laws than most members of Congress. When we meet with them we don’t ever have to explain what it is that we’re trying to do or why it is justified. They get it,” explains Duhamel. “The role that leaders like Joe Kennedy, Richie Neal, Mike Capuano and Jim McGovern play is that they’re in the upper levels of Congressional Leadership. And while, as Democrats, they’re not in a position to force passage, their insight and experience is essential to how we’re able to move things forward. We need to have put in the work and be ready to jump on any opportunity that presents itself to pass a reform bill ASAP.”
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