Districts are supposed to tell new hires about the impact “WEP and GPO” will have on their Social Security—but often they don’t, says Dennis Cox, president of the CFT Council of Retired Members. That means teachers who are counting on a certain amount of income for their retirement get a shock when they find out they won’t be getting it. This happened to Cox.
“I found out I wasn’t going to get my full Social Security benefits and Medicare would be taken out of that,” he said. “I got clobbered, and there’s many people in a worse situation than I am.”
Cox is also chair of the Social Justice Legislative Committee for his Retiree Chapter, AFT Local 2317-R, of the ABC Federation of Teachers. He and Bonnie Cediel, a retired member of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers and who runs the aptly named advocacy group Social Security Fairness, are committed to letting teachers know how the Windfall Elimination Program (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO) can hurt them financially.
These penalties, both passed by Congress in the early 1980s, reduce the earned Social Security benefits of teachers and other public employees (WEP), and usually eliminate spousal benefits (GPO). This penalizes teachers in 15 states, including California, and many retired public employees across the country.
Both Cox and Cediel sit on the National WEP/GPO Repeal Task Force that has been working to pass legislation, inform people about these penalties and get them involved. They asked people to tell legislators how the offsets affect their retirement income. More than 300 people responded. Also at this summer’s AFT Convention, members passed a new resolution to support repealing the WEP/GPO.
Now the task force is making a big push to repeal the offsets before the national midterm elections. It supports H.R.5723 by Rep. John Larson, D-Connecticut and H.R. 82 by Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Illinois (Davis was not reelected in the Primary Election). The task force is asking people to send testimonials about the impact of the WEP and GPO to lawmakers, Cox said.
“So much suffering and damage has been caused to people unnecessarily,” Cox said. “Social Security is not an entitlement. That money is ours. We paid into the system with the expectation we’d get it back.”
The task force launched a MoveOn petition, currently at over 100,000 signatures, with the hope of reaching 200,000 signatories. Joining forces, AFT just launched a petition as well.
Cediel recently talked with AFT President Randi Weingarten to reiterate the dire effect of the offsets on teachers—some even losing their homes when they couldn’t pay their mortgages. Both Cediel and Cox believe these penalties affect teacher recruitment and retention—that people won’t want to be teachers when they learn they won’t get their earned Social Security benefits.
“Three of us met with Randi and a couple of her aides, and we told them about the terrible thing happening to teachers,” Cediel said. “Randi said, ‘OK, what are we going to do?’ And AFT decided to do its own petition to get people’s attention, and 10 days later the petition was distributed online nationwide.”
Like Cox, Cediel says the focus right now is on passing the federal legislation.
“We’ve done a lot of work to get H.R. 82 through Congress,” she said. “We have 301 co-signers, which is more than are needed to pass the House of Representatives.”
Cediel says organizers are eager to get the bill passed in the House, so they can start working on the Senate.
“The Senate has 40 co-signers, but it takes 60 to pass,” she said. “There are a little over 6 million people on the job who will be affected by this. Across the country, more than one-third of teachers work in states where they will be affected by the WEP and GPO.”
Cediel says her group works extremely well together. She gives as an example the May 18 rally in Washington, D. C. demanding that the pension offsets be repealed. Several CFT members made the trek to join the Capitol action.
“When we were putting together the rally whenever there was a problem somebody said, ‘I’ll take care of it,’” she said. “That’s the kind of energy we have.”
Cox and Cediel say they’re worried about the bill getting gutted before it’s voted on. That was a concern when H.R. 82 went to the House Ways and Means Committee for mark-up on September 20. But the bill moved out of committee with no recommendations, and next it will come up on the House floor for debate. Cediel says they’re still working on getting more co-signers in the House as well as in the Senate.
What can you do? Cox and Cediel encourage teachers to get involved with this critical issue that affects their retirement income. On Cediel’s Social Security Fairness website, there are ways to get involved, and the CFT has put together a WEP/GPO Repeal Toolkit that summarizes key information and take action items.
— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter
- Sign the AFT petition!
- Sign the MoveOn petition too!
- Find all the info in our WEP/GPO Repeal Toolkit.