Retired Texas teachers get no relief from Social Security penalty

Retired Texas teachers get no relief from Social Security penalty

As 2022 ends, Congress has not acted to reform a Social Security penalty that is costing 200,000 Texas retirees, mostly teachers, up to $500 or more a month, spoiling a rare chance for a bipartisan solution to helped them.

A 40-year-old effort to change the so-called Windfall Elimination Provision had strong support last year, with the top Democrat and the top Republican on the influential Ways and Means Committee on board.

DEEP DIVE: Rep. Retired Brady takes aim at Social Security penalty hitting retired Texas teachers

But even this advantage was not enough to make it happen, as a new Congress is now taking over and starting over. The Republican Ways and Means backer, Texas Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands, retired this week, and Democrat Richard Neal of Massachusetts is poised to lose his chairmanship.

“Well, I think we had more hope than if we had gotten people’s attention to do something,” said Cathey Meyer, who worked in San Antonio-area schools for 28 years before starting a second career. with an FBI counterintelligence team in Houston. , “I wasn’t surprised it didn’t get approved because I honestly don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.”

Meyer receives a monthly retirement benefit check from the Teachers Retirement System for her years there, but her Social Security check is deducted by hundreds each month because of the rule.

“Overall, I think educators are very confident and it’s really a job that you do for public service and for the love of what you do, that’s why I do it, and a lot of educators are not proactive about their rights and theirs. own needs. And I don’t think they realize that their voice makes a difference,” she said. “I think the educator lobby is extremely weak when you compare it to the gun lobby, the military lobby, the oil and gas lobby, all the people with big money. that can affect. It’s not where we come from. So we lose our power of influence.”

The bipartisan push last year marked the closest reform efforts have come in decades, said Monty Exter, a lobbyist with the Texas Association of Professional Educators.

“We all saw that there was a window with Ranking Member Brady and Speaker Neal … both of whom had remarkably similar bills in past sessions,” Exter said. “With so much momentum around the issue in general … we felt like this was the best shot we’d had in a while.”

The history of the rule

The rule dates back to the 1980s, deducting Social Security benefits from people who receive public pension checks for jobs in which they did not pay into Social Security. About 2 million people nationwide are affected.

Brady and supporters of rewriting the rule say it imposes an unfair reduction in benefits for all public employees such as teachers, firefighters and police officers, who are often paid less during their careers. Retirees can lose more than $500 a month in Social Security.

Most of those affected in Texas are retired teachers who receive pension benefits from the state, which studies have found has worse options for teacher retirement than any state in the country except Louisiana.

No Texas teacher who has retired since August 31, 2004 has received a cost-of-living adjustment in those checks, despite historic levels of inflation.

Adjusted for inflation, the payout for a retiree earning $3,000 a month would now be $4,728.08.

Since more than 90 percent of Texas school districts choose not to pay into Social Security, teachers who have worked other jobs throughout their lives that have paid into Social Security have their benefits reduced under the Windfall Elimination rule. Brady has been pushing to change that since 2004.

“We have turned to you time and time again to help us turn the Rubik’s cube to solve this issue. It’s a complex problem or it would have been solved a long time ago,” Brady said during a news conference for a group of Texas and Massachusetts teachers visiting Washington last month.

Social Security is so politically difficult to change that it’s known as the “third rail” of American politics—touch, die. Any changes to the program must consider the effects over a 75-year period, and a complete repeal of the windfall provision would cost billions.

Instead, Brady and Neal proposed “proportional” changes to adjust the amount of Social Security deductions to an individual’s career path and how many years they did and did not pay into the system.

“The work that we’ve done, I think we’re getting closer and closer, and now’s the time,” Brady said late last month.

But Congress did not move to pass either his bill or a very similar measure pushed by Neal.

‘End of an era’

In a letter to retired Texas teachers, Tim Lee, executive director of the Texas Association of Retired Teachers, wrote that he believed a bipartisan deal was in place, but that House leaders ultimately rejected it.

“Congress knows WEP is hurting public servants, but it continues to fail to act,” Lee wrote in an email. “The latest failure of Congress marks the end of an era.”

Lee was referring to the fact that as a new session of Congress begins and Republicans take control of the House of Representatives, Neal will no longer have a hand in the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and Brady will take that. after retiring at the end of last term.

The new chairman of the influential House committee that oversees budget bills will not be chosen until after a new House speaker is elected, an ongoing process.

Until then, everything is forgotten.

“I think it’s a little early to know for sure how much we’ll be able to pick up where we left off and how much we’ll have to start over,” Exter said.

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