Tim Lee Visits Washington DC, Discusses Advancement of WEP Reform Bills

By the Texas Retired Teachers Association

Executive Summary:

Recently, the Texas Retired Teachers Association’s (TRTA) Executive Director Tim Lee attended Rep. Richard Neal’s (D – Massachusetts) briefing. The purpose of the briefing was to discuss Neal’s bill, HR 4540, proposing to reform the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

As most TRTA members know, Rep. Kevin Brady (R- The Woodlands, TX) also has his own WEP reform bill, HR 3934, that he introduced last summer. HR 3934 is an improvement on Mr. Brady’s early work on WEP reform.

Watch Tim Lee’s Facebook Live about the WEP!

These bills are largely the same, but differences that do exist may be significant hurdles that Neal and Brady will need to sort through as the bills seek to gain traction in the Congressional process.

The first major difference between HR 4540 and HR 3934 has to do with the rebate provided to current public worker retirees that are already hit by the unfair WEP.

In HR 4540, the rebate is a simple $150 per month for the public pensioner who is already impacted by the WEP. If you are a TRS Texas retiree and hit by the WEP, HR 4540 would provide you with a $150 per month, or $1,800 per year, more in Social Security. This benefit is indexed to cost-of-living adjustments provided to all Social Security recipients, so it will likely increase over time. The rebate is provided to the TRS retiree.

In HR 3934, a similar rebate is provided to TRS retirees. That bill allows for a $100 per month benefit, or $1,200 per year, Social Security increase for any public pensioner retiree. HR 3934 provides an additional $50 per month benefit to a non-pensioner spouse under certain circumstances. HR 3934 also indexes the rebate to cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients, so as Social Security benefits see a cost-of-living increase, the rebate provided in this bill increases.

HR 4540 offers a richer rebate for most public pensioner retirees, including TRS Texas retirees.

TRTA members will likely focus on this provision the most, as it does represent the most significant difference in the bill for our membership and our future members.

TRTA supports the highest possible rebate for those impacted by the WEP. In fact, a further improvement on the rebate would be a welcome addition to either HR 4540 or HR 3934.

While this is an important point for TRTA and most of all the education community around the country, it’s not the biggest point of contention between the two bills.

The biggest issue is the idea that HR 4540 provides a “hold harmless” for all current and future active public workers who may benefit from the existing WEP.

For those of us who have worked primarily in the educator community, it seems unbelievable that someone may actually think the existing WEP is beneficial to anyone.

However, some government workers have the ability to make use of the provision in the existing WEP law that exempts a worker from having their Social Security benefits reduced if they have 30 years of Social Security earnings in addition to their public pension benefits.

Various organizations representing the first responder community have not supported efforts to reform the unfair and arbitrary WEP because these organizations don’t see it as either unfair or arbitrary. The WEP was often seen as a path to securing the best retirement possible for these organizations.

While TRTA and these other groups represent very different views of the WEP, we all agree that public workers deserve to have this issue resolved so that current and future retirees are no longer impacted negatively by this unfair provision.

There seems to be a fundamental policy disconnect separating Neal and Brady. The policy disconnect is based on the idea of fairness. Both agree that the arbitrary nature of the WEP is unfair and requires a solution. However, there are difficult questions surrounding the winners and losers of a WEP reform that must be answered so that some positive conclusion can be reached.

Will the debate over providing this hold harmless exemption be enough to kill any attempt to fix the WEP? If that answer is yes, then how is it fair to the millions of people currently hurt by the WEP and to our national educator community that nothing will be done to help them?

The vast majority of education professionals, active and retired, will do better by fixing the WEP issue. If Congress becomes deadlocked on the hold harmless provision with WEP reform, we may see no relief for current or retired educators.

We have taken many steps forward, but the path ahead is far from clear.

As your association and as the nation’s largest association of retired public school workers in America, TRTA supports both HR 4540 and HR 3934.

TRTA supports both bills for what they propose to accomplish, and we support both of these bills because it’s clear that both Neal and Brady care about public workers. It’s critical that Neal and Brady get together to resolve the differences in their bills so that they may have traction in the congressional process.

The arbitrary nature of the WEP is being called out. The time to perpetuate bad public policy at the expense of those who cannot afford to lose their hard-earned Social Security benefits must come to an end.

A better way has been identified. Policymakers, as well as stakeholder groups have agreed to a fairer approach. We must get this issue resolved. Now is the time for bipartisanship to make a difference for all public workers hurt by the WEP.

The bottom line is, the WEP needs to be resolved as quickly as possible to provide relief for those who are suffering under its unfair formula. TRTA is asking that its members contact their congressional representatives and ask for support on both HR 4540 and HR 3934. This site can help you find your representative. Please, contact your representative and ask them to become a cosponsor on both bills.

TRTA is looking past the partisanship that often derails so much of the public policy discussion in Washington. We are asking that Neal and Brady work together and solve the differences so that the unfair nature of the WEP will finally come to an end.

The Texas Retired Teachers Association exists to protect your TRS retirement and fights to make it better. Please consider becoming a member and joining the largest community of TRS retirees in the nation.

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