Congressional hearing updates on Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset

BATON ROUGE — For the first time in nearly a decade, the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means held a subcommittee hearing outside of the halls of Congress.

A field hearing was held Monday at the St. George Fire Department to discuss how some programs negatively affect social security benefits for government employees in Louisiana.

The meeting focused on Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO), and how the programs have mistreated government workers.

These two 1980s-era flawed federal laws can result in massive cuts – including the total elimination – of a retiree’s Social Security payments.

The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) is a formula used to reduce Social Security benefits for individuals who paid into both civil service pensions and Social Security throughout their careers. While the WEP was intended to prevent “windfalls,” in practice, it unfairly penalizes public servants like firefighters, police officers, and teachers by reducing their retirement checks.

The Government Pension Offset (GPO) reduces the spousal-dependent benefits of individuals who did not pay into Social Security by two-thirds of their government pension. This sometimes results in individuals receiving zero Social Security benefits, even if their spouse paid in their entire working career.

WEP affects two million social security beneficiaries, and GPO impacts 780,000 retirees.

“These provisions have done a disservice to many who choose to work for their communities as firefighters, teachers, police officers, and other public servants,” said Committee Chairman Jason Smith. “They work tirelessly to improve the lives of their neighbors and their communities. Like all working families, they deserve a secure retirement. Yet we are here in Louisiana because that retirement is far from secure. Social Security’s Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset have prevented millions of Americans from getting the Social Security benefits they deserve and these policies will harm millions more unless Congress acts.”

Congressman Garrett Graves has led the charge on getting WEP and GPO repealed.

Graves was a big part of the bill that former Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL) introduced in 2021. That bill passed the co-sponsor threshold but got as far as the union calendar in September 2022.

Graves and U.S. Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (V.A.) have garnered much support for H.R. 82- the Social Security Fairness Act. Graves said Monday that the legislation has over 300 bipartisan co-sponsors. It’s the third most co-sponsored bill of the current congressional session.

“This bill really is the solution,” Graves said. “It helps ensure that they’re treated fairly and doesn’t penalize or discount those who choose public services like teachers, firefighters, police officers, state workers, and others. It really is stealing from them. Our bill fixes it.”

Patrick Yoes, the National president of the Fraternal Order of Police, was one of five people who testified to the committee Monday about how the programs have affected them. The Fraternal Order of Police is the nation’s largest and oldest law enforcement labor organization.

“It is estimated that 60 percent of all of America’s law enforcement officers are affected by this provision (WEP),” Yoes explained. “Law enforcement officers who served in an agency outside of the Social Security system may lose up to 60% of their Social Security benefit of which they’re entitled by virtue of secondary or post-retirement employment. We’re not asking for special treatment or anything more than we’ve already fairly earned. We’re just simply asking for fair treatment. The Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset is wrong, unfair, and frankly, it’s dishonest.”

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