Forum Spotlights Law’s Unfairness to Public Retirees

On Monday, a House Ways and Means Committee Field Hearing on “Social Security’s Disservice to Public Servants: How the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset Mistreat Government Workers” took place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This was the first Congressional public hearing on the topic since 2016.

The hearing was held by U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. It was co-chaired by Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith (R-MI) and Social Security Subcommittee Vice Chairman Mike Carey (R-OH). The hearing was streamed live and can be viewed here.  

Mass Retirees has submitted written testimony to the Committee. Members harmed by the WEP and/or the GPO are encouraged to submit a personal statement on how these unfair laws have impacted your retirement. The Committee is also interested to learn how retirees first learned of the WEP and GPO, as well as whether or not prior knowledge of the laws would have impacted your decision to become a public employee.

Per the instructions from the Committee: “Please Note: Any person(s) and/or organization(s) wishing to submit written comments for the hearing record can do so here:

Please ATTACH your submission as a Microsoft Word document in compliance with the formatting requirements listed below, by the close of business on Monday, December 4, 2023.”

In a statement posted online prior to the hearing, the Committee said “America’s public servants are mistreated by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO). These unfair Social Security rules not only harm their retirement but can often take seniors by surprise. Today, the Committee has traveled to Baton Rouge, LA to hear from retired public servants about how WEP and GPO have affected their lives.”

The Ways and Means Field Hearing was held in Baton Rouge for two reasons. First, a large portion of Louisiana’s public workforce is not covered by Social Security and therefore impacted by WEP and GPO. Second, the lead sponsor of H.R.82  is Congressman Garret Graves (R-LA), whose district includes Baton Rouge. With more than 300 House cosponsors, H.R.82 proposes to fully repeal both the WEP and GPO. At the hearing, Graves called a Congressional action to fix the 1983 federal law “long overdue.”

We should point out that while the focus of the four official witnesses was on full repeal of both the WEP and GPO laws, the hearing itself spotlighted the unfairness of laws and did not delve into the details of any specific legislative fix.

Leading off the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Carey described the WEP and GPO as flawed, complex formulas that tend to overcorrect. He explained that today’s hearing “is the first step to identify meaningful relief for our public servants.” 

Chairman Smith, who will ultimately play a key role in whether or not a WEP/GPO bill passes the House during the current Congressional session said the following in his opening remarks: “Social Security’s Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset have prevented millions of Americans from getting the Social Security benefits they deserve, and these policies will harm millions more, unless Congress acts. While not likely known to most Americans, these two parts of the Social Security program have real consequences for public employees. It means seniors get smaller checks and could struggle to afford their food, medicine, and heat their homes.

“Decades ago, in an effort to keep Social Security from overpaying certain retirees – which would be unfair to other seniors – Washington stepped in and created new formulas and a new process. Unfortunately, those solutions have proven ill-equipped to solve the original problem.

“Seniors aren’t only harmed by these unfair policies. They’re often blindsided by them. Most state and local employees do not know that they’ll get a smaller Social Security benefit until it’s too late to adjust their plans. People spend decades working, saving, planning for retirement, and find out only at the point of retirement, that things were not as they thought. And given the complexity of the entire system, trying to work with the Social Security Administration to determine what they are owed can be extremely difficult and frustrating.

“At the core of this issue is fairness. Congress must find a bipartisan way to provide public servants with the fair treatment that they deserve.”

In total, four witnesses who are retired public servants gave public testimony during the hearing. 

Patrick Yoes, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police, testified that not a day goes by when he does not hear from retired police officers who have been harmed by the WEP and/or GPO. He stated that there is deep frustration for law enforcement officers who lose a large portion of their earned Social Security benefits due to WEP. Seventy percent lose their entire spousal or survivor benefit due to GPO. This “discourages anyone from pursuing a career in public service,” said Yoes. 

Yoes said that he hears from members of his organization every week. “They’re not asking for handouts—they’re asking for what they earned.” 

Ann Dugas, a retired Louisiana State Employee, testified that after being widowed at age young age with five children, she began receiving Social Security survivor’s benefits. Due to the GPO, those benefits were eliminated once she retired and began to collect her public pension. Mrs. Dugas stated, “The decision to retire was not an easy one for me to make. Approaching the age of seventy-seven (77) with twenty-five (25) years of employment with the State, I faced the reality that I would not be able to work much longer and I felt that I needed to begin to look into my options for retirement.”

Bernie Piro, a retired firefighter of 35 years, testified that he expects his Social Security benefits to be cut by about 60 percent due to WEP. He described the provisions as a betrayal and “an injustice that must be corrected now.” He explained how the WEP has been a tremendous hardship on his family, and they have eliminated spending where they can, including internet service and a landline at their home. 

Paula Porter, a retired school teacher from Louisiana of 38 years, testified that her husband passed away at age 61 from cancer and never collected any Social Security income. Mrs. Porter worked part-time jobs throughout her career after this passing to support their five children. Porter is now 80 years old, and she has been denied her husband’s benefits. “I still live a simple life—I don’t travel, I don’t go to movies. You lead a very, very simple life.” 

Chairing the hearing, Congressman Carey made the following observation. “While this is an issue that is especially pronounced in Louisiana it is not just a Louisiana problem. It affects more than one hundred thousand public servants in my home state of Ohio, as well as those in Missouri, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, Virginia, California, and every other state across the country.

“America’s hardworking and dedicated public servants deserve relief from the WEP and GPO’s unfair treatment.

“We are holding this Subcommittee hearing at the St. George Fire Department in Baton Rouge to hear directly from Americans whose Social Security benefits are impacted by these policies.

“This is the first step in the Committee’s efforts to identify meaningful relief for public servants.”

While next steps are remained unknown, it is likely that this week’s public hearing will be just the first of this Congressional session (which runs until January 1, 2025).

Mass Retirees members should look to our weekly update on Friday, December 1, 2023 for analysis and key takeaways from what we learned from the hearing. We will also make our written testimony available to members at that time.

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