For decades, two controversial provisions that reduce or eliminate Social Security benefits for hundreds of thousands of former feds, state and local government workers and spouses have been under attack in Congress. Efforts to modify or repeal them are made annually. Without success. Until now! Maybe.
Officially, they are the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision. Off-the-record, they are the “Evil Twins” that have deprived an estimated two million former government workers — from feds to state, city and county workers, cops, firefighters and other public employees — of Social Security benefits they earned for themselves or a surviving spouse.
Those who want to repeal GPO and WEP say they were enacted either in error, or by design to save money by depriving government workers/survivors of benefits due to them.
With equal fervor, those defending the two laws say they have prevented higher income government workers — with minimal coverage paying into Social Security — from getting higher benefits by taking advantage of what many call Social Security’s “welfare tilt,” which gives higher benefits to lower-income individuals.
Getting caught in the cross-fire between the pro- and anti-GPO/WEP factions isn’t fun, or politically productive. Many members have supported repeal, on paper, to satisfy groups representing active and retired government workers. But this is the first time they’ve rounded up enough support to get a House vote. This is also the first time the repeal votes have gotten out of committee.
Earlier this week, the key House Ways and Means Committee voted to clear the bill for a full House vote. This year the measure, by Reps. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) and Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat from Northern Virginia, which is chock full of repeal-the-act workers, retirees and family members. The National Association of Active and Retired Federal Employees made a successful last ditch appeal Monday for the repeal vote. And with only about seven weeks left to go until the midterm elections, the so-called “Evil Twins” are not to be counted out. But the fact that repeal of GPO and Offset has gotten this far, finally, has given many the hopes they will someday collect the full benefits they think they deserve.
So for now, Congress — at least the House side of it — is closer than ever to giving the green light to repeal or reform WEP and GPO, the so-called “Evil Twins” that eat into, or eliminate, the Social Security benefits of hundreds of thousands of former government employees or their widows. Most impacted by the laws spent most of their career in government jobs — federal CSRS employees and state and local jobs — that were not covered by Social Security. Many qualified for Social Security anyhow, by working briefly under covered employment either before, while or after they were in government. Since the mid-1980s, when the government replaced the CSRS retirement plan with the FERS program, feds have been under Social Security. FERS employees get smaller starting annuities, and in times of high inflation (like now) they get reduced or “diet” cost of living adjustments. CSRS retirees (who paid more into their retirement fund) get full COLA protection for life.
For decades, many whose Social Security benefits have been reduced by WEP or Offset have been pushing Congress to fix them. Backers of WEP and Offset say they protect the program from being ripped off by preventing “excessive” payments to government retirees/survivors who spent the minimal time paying into Social Security. Opponents say it was a cruel way to save money by denying some or all benefits to people who need it most, and that the former government people are the ones being ripped off when their benefits are reduced or simply wiped out.
The two laws, the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset, were enacted as reforms. And they are incredibly complex, even by Washington standards. And controversial. Most people have never heard of them. But those who know why they exist and what they do are deadly serious.