SOCIAL ‘INSECURITY’: Rules meant to prevent ‘double dipping’ eat away at retirement benefits for some residents

Social Uncertainty: Workers not receiving full benefits prompts legislation

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Rules introduced in the Social Security Amendments of 1983 were intended to do some good by preventing those who collect a government salary from double dipping by getting the same advantages in Social Security payment calculations as private workers.

However, two of those rules are catching federal, state, and parish workers like teachers, police officers, and firefighters, and their spouses hoping to cash in on their pensions, off guard.

Gail and Charles Templeton
Gail and Charles Templeton

It’s gotten so bad that Louisiana has one of the highest populations of victims in the country, including Charles and Gail Templeton.

Now in their 70s, the couple is proud of the family they’ve raised and provided for.

It’s providing for his family that ultimately motivated Charles to move on to a state job with the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) after spending 29 years working for various contractors in the private sector.

“We always tried to plan for the future so they would have everything they needed,” said Charles. “I took a big pay cut when I went to go work for the state. It was several hundred dollars I lost because I went to the state for them, but I knew in the long run I would have a steady paycheck and steady income and I would have a decent retirement.”"

At least that’s what he thought when he spent 21 years with the agency, long enough for he and Gail to be eligible for retirement benefits.

Charles is a victim of Windfall Elimination Prevision (WEP), a rule which essentially cuts down earned Social Security funds just because someone is employed by a government agency and earns a pension. It’s meant to prevent government employees, who don’t pay taxes into the Social Security System, from earning the same high-percentage of benefits paid to those employed in the private sector.

“Charles paid that money in, and we didn’t realize at the time that he was paying all that money in that we would not be able to draw it at a full rate so that was an awful lot of money... we were raising our family and we were still paying that money to them so I think now, they should pay us our money,” said Gail.

WEP is a problem for workers who are employed in both the private sector and public sector throughout their career. Their Social Security benefits can be cut significantly.

“I’m being penalized because social security won’t pay me everything I’m supposed to receive because I do have a retirement from the state. In other words, I can’t have dual retirements,” said Charles.

An accompanying rule, the Government Pension Offset (GPO), impacts Gail.

Under GPO, spouses who are eligible for Social Security benefits would have their spousal benefits cut by two-thirds because of the calculation the government uses.

“The federal government, as I see it, wastes so much money. I can’t see how they punish the little people,” said Gail.

For example, say Person 1 and Person 2 had the same job at the same company for 15 years. Both paid the exact same amount into Social Security for those 15 years to earn $1,000 every month when they retire. After that company though, Person 2 decides to go work for the government and retire after 20 years.

Under WEP, Social Security would take Person 2′s 15 years of earned benefits and use a chart to figure out what percentage of the $1,000 they’ll actually get. In this case, Person 2 receives 40 percent of the $1,000, meaning Person 2 would only get a $400 check while Person 1 would receive the full $1,000.

Under GPO, let’s say Person 1′s state pension is $2,100 every month. GPO takes that pension amount and cuts it by two-thirds, meaning $1,400 in this case. Now, subtract that $1,400 from the $1,000 they were supposed to get from Social Security. Person 1′s spouse gets nothing.

“This is unfair. It is unjust and we are working to try to fix it,” said Congressman Garret Graves. “All we’re asking for is for the people to be treated fairly, for them to be given a share of the payments they made into the social security system.”

It’s why Graves is cosponsoring House Bill 141. It’s called the Social Security Fairness Act and would repeal GPO and WEP by amending and striking parts of the current law. So far, the proposed bill already has more than 150 cosponsor with that number rising daily.

“Our goal is to get about 220, 230 cosponsors just to show the leadership in the House that there’s strong support behind this initiative,”

Data shows people in 26 states fall victim to the current law Graves hopes to repeal. Louisiana ranks as the fourth highest state whose population is impacted by WEP and GPO. Louisiana ranks behind California, Colorado, and Illinois.

“It’s really penalizing folks for choosing public service and look we all know, people don’t become police officers, or teachers for the money,” said Graves

To ensure something is done, a second bill has been introduced in the Senate. If either bill does pass in Congress, the change would go into effect after December of 2019.

It’s music to the Templetons ears.

Like many of those impacted in Louisiana, the Templetons say its not a handout they’re looking for. They simply want the “worker bees” to get what they’re owed.

As a side note, the Templetons also pay $800 every quarter for their Medicare out of their pockets.

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