I’m often surprised by how many emails I get about Social Security’s so-called “evil twins,” the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO).
My colleagues and I have been writing about the WEP and GPO for years, often focusing on the latest piece of legislation that a member has introduced to either repeal or offset one or the other.
Those bills have repeatedly failed over the years. A recent piece of legislation packages those reform efforts with a broader set of Social Security changes, but I’ll get to that in minute.
The WEP is a complicated relic from a 1983 law that reduces Social Security benefits for a highly specific subset of retirees in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). The goal was to prevent what members of Congress often called “double-dipping.”
Federal employees and other public sector workers who receive an annuity from their time spent in government, but who also worked in a Social Security-covered job in, say, the private sector, fall prey to the WEP.
According to the Congressional Research Service, that was about 1.9 million people across the country last year. Most of them are retirees from state and local government, but some are federal employees hired before 1984.
The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) has a handy breakdown of the WEP’s impact on retirees in each state. Again, these numbers include all retirees across the nation, not just former feds.
The GPO dates back to 1977, and it prevents public sector retirees from collecting a government annuity for their own work in non-Social Security covered employment and Social Security benefits based on a spouse’s work record.
House Democrats organized a hearing last week to discuss a bill that Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.), introduced the Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust Act earlier this year.
Notably, the bill temporarily repeals the WEP and GPO for about four years.
The “evil twins” impact about 3% of Social Security beneficiaries, but the new legislation has a broader audience in mind.
The bill, for example, provides an across-the-board increase in Social Security beneficiaries, which Democrats say is an attempt to make up for inadequate cost of living adjustments (COLAs) over the last 30 years.
The legislation also adopts the consumer price index for the elderly (CPI-E) as the formula for calculating annual COLAs, a measure that some say will better account for seniors’ real spending habits. NARFE said Congress would have to take separate legislative action to extend these changes to federal and military retirees.
Some federal employee groups like NARFE and the American Federation of Government Employees have said they support the bill, even if they want to see Congress repeal the WEP and GPO on a permanent basis.
Various members of Congress have made multiple attempts to eliminate the WEP and GPO, or at least reduce its impact, over the course of the last decade. But those previous attempts have failed.
If eliminating the WEP or improving the outlook of Social Security is important to you, let me offer a bit of advice.
First, learn the players.
I often get emails from readers wondering who they can talk to express their concerns over the WEP or potential retirement changes. The answer? Your congressman. Your senators.
Some members will know what the WEP is and why it matters. Some might not, and it’s up to you, as their constituents, to tell them what impact this three-letter acronym has on your and your life.
Second, read the room, and set realistic expectations.
Let’s be honest here. Congress sends about a handful of major bills to the president’s desk each year, and even that’s a stretch sometimes. Take this year as an example. It’s mid-December, and the annual defense policy bill isn’t law yet. Congress pushed off budget negotiations — for the fiscal year that started more than months ago — to February.
Think about the other congressional squabbles over the last year. Passing the infrastructure bill was no walk in the park. The debt limit debate took on new life this year.
Midterm elections are coming up next year. While members running for reelection are looking for wins, they’re also going to spend a significant amount of time out of the office.
I say this because passing legislation, and I mean real, sweeping efforts like the ones we’re taking about, is difficult. Routine bills seem more difficult to move these days, and razor-thin majorities in both the House and Senate don’t make things easier.
So… changing the outlook for Social Security? It’s going to be hard to say the least, even if Congress had the attention span for such a task.