Wednesday, January 23, 2008

House panel studies bill to save public-employee benefits

The House Ways and Means Committee considered legislation Wednesday that could reform 30-year-old Social Security laws some say are unfair to public workers.

The bill, sponsored by Reps. Howard Berman, D-Van Nuys, and Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, has about 336 supporters - three-quarters of the U.S. House.

"The people who need this bill made their Social Security payments for as long as they were required to. But they don't receive full benefits in return. Why? Because they also worked as public servants," Berman said after the hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee.

The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO) originally were designed to prevent those earning government pensions and Social Security spousal or survival benefits from "double-dipping" - or obtaining the
maximum benefits under both systems.

But the practical effect has been that retirees in California and 14 other states have their Social Security benefits chopped by about two-thirds if they take up a second career in the public sector after retiring from private employment.

Rep. Michael McNulty, D-N.Y., chairman of the subcommittee on Social Security who convened the hearing, agreed that the rules are no longer working the way they were intended.

Berman called the laws "a classic case of the law of unintended consequences hard at work," and said he is hopeful Congress will repeal the provisions.

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