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On the anniversary of the Social Security Act, let’s fix its flaws

Photo Credit: Getty.
By AFSCME Staff ·

Before Barbara Ward’s husband, Ron, died of a brain tumor, he thought he had left his wife with a Social Security benefit that would allow her to live with dignity in retirement. So did Beverly Payne’s husband, who worked for decades in construction, and Lois Carson’s, who paid into the Social Security system since he was 15 years old.

But because Ward, Payne and Carson are public service workers who have earned a public pension through decades of service to their communities, they will not be treated the same by the Social Security Administration. In fact, they will be penalized.

The Social Security Act turns 86 on Saturday, and its anniversary is undoubtedly something to celebrate, since the law has helped so many millions of Americans retire with dignity. But it doesn’t treat every retiree with fairness.

The Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) of the Social Security Act were intended to adjust benefits for higher-income earners. But because their formulas don’t consider a worker’s lifetime earnings, they penalize and severely harm low-income and middle-class retirees and their survivors.

Ward, Payne and Carson – public service workers who are members of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE/AFSCME Local 4) – are in their 70s but reluctant to retire because they know that they will not receive full Social Security survivor benefits. In fact, they will only receive about a third of what they should.

This means that despite the public pension they’ve earned, they may not be able to make ends meet, much less live with dignity in retirement.

“The GPO hits OAPSE members particularly hard because it disproportionately impacts low-wage workers, particularly women,” AFSCME Vice President and OAPSE Executive Director Joseph Rugola said in written testimony submitted to Congress this past spring. “About 80% of public pensioners affected by the GPO are women. Most of these women began their careers expecting to retire with both a public pension and a Social Security spousal benefit. It’s a shock when they realize that they will not receive a much-needed portion of their expected retirement income.”

At their annual council meeting in June, AFSCME retirees also made their voices heard on this issue.

Congress must recommit to making this earned benefit, which has helped millions of workers retire with dignity, fair and equitable for every retiree. It must recommit to fixing its flaws.

The Social Security Act can be fixed by passing the Social Security Fairness Act, a bipartisan proposal that would repeal the GPO and WEP offsets, ensuring that public service workers and their families receive full Social Security benefits.

The bill has broad support in Congress. It was reintroduced this year in the Senate by Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Susan Collins of Maine, and in the House by Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis.

Public service workers serve their communities to make them better. But because of the GPO and WEP offsets, too many of them are unable to retire with dignity. This is unfair and unconscionable. Now is the time to pass the Social Security Fairness Act.

Tell Congress to pass the Social Security Fairness Act now.

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