Congress makes new run at striking down disparity in Social Security

Congress may yet upend an enduring wrinkle in Social Security benefits, a disparity long resented by certain federal employees and public servants at the state ...

NASA’s James Webb Telescope has sent pictures of galaxies that formed moments — in cosmic time — after formation of the universe itself. A Penn State University researcher told the Associated Press that the “revelation…upends what many of us had thought was settled science.”

Science is not the only thing that remains unsettled.

Congress may yet upend an enduring wrinkle in Social Security benefits, a disparity long resented by certain federal employees and public servants at the state and local levels.

For 40 years, the windfall elimination provision, known as the WEP,  has reduced Social Security retirement payments for those who held jobs not covered by Social Security and who receive a pension from such a job. That includes feds under the old Civil Service Retirement System. The theory is, they didn’t pay into Social Security while earning that salary.

On the same theory, the government pension offset, or GPO, reduces Social Security benefits for surviving spouses of people otherwise covered by the WEP.

Whatever their merits, the WEP and GPO have been bitterly contested ever since. They’re no trivial matter. The most recent Congressional Budget Office count indicates that about 2.8 million people are covered by the WEP or the GPO.

A new, but not the first, bipartisan bill in the House would end the WEP and GPO. It was introduced by Republican Garret Graves of Louisiana and Democrat Abigail Spanberger of Virginia. Last year the bill did not make it out of committee. Spanberger told me she’s optimistic it will at least get a full House vote in this session. So far it has collected more than 200 co-sponsors from both parties. If enacted this year, the bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2024.

Oddly, there’s no Senate companion bill yet. Spanberger theorized House action might spur someone, anyone, in the Senate. Repeal has the backing of employee groups ranging from federal unions to police fraternal orders. Perhaps this will be the year the “settled science” of WEP and GPO gets upended.

The TSP has fixed one website problem, apparently

Since my last column on problems with the Thrift Savings Plan web site, the emails continue to come in. The TSP board has a meeting next week with contractor Accenture, and we’ll report what happens. The board is aware of the issues and, to its credit, has been trying to hammer down the protruding nails.

One reader reported the apparent resolution of one vexing problem, namely, not being able to type in and establish a monthly withdrawal amount of your own choosing. After expressing frustration last month, the reader stated this week that it seems to be resolved.

She wrote on Wednesday, “I was able to successfully submit a $2,500 monthly withdrawal online. This despite the TSP insisting last month that there was no issue and the system was working as it should.”

The fix is apparently a just-now thing. Emails from the first week in February said withdrawals remained unmanageable.

Yet another reader, Bill, a retiree, said that in mid-February the TSP site tried to force him into a monthly withdrawal of $2,700 — for the next 57 years!

“I wish I had that much in my TSP account and even more so with that I could live for 57 more years,” he added. He also reported that the TSP web site promised a fix by the end of March.

A still-working reader had  trouble had trouble getting an annual statement. Five months were missing from an email copy. He said telephone operators could not see the missing months either, and that a supervisor told him the old system doesn’t communicated with the new one. This reader, a senior counsel at regulatory agency, also said he could not get the online enhanced income modeler to produce a monthly withdrawal figure.

People continue to vent the website functionality problem in forums such as Reddit and one operated by the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. A fair number of people threaten to move their accounts to commercial IRAs. Only a few have done so.


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