Saturday, March 03, 2007

Texas Teachers Slammed - Why Now?

Lightseeker at Texas Kaos thanked the Houston Chronicle for slamming teachers one more time in their efforts to receive what anyone else is entitled to: Social Security spousal benefits.

I thought I might enlarge on the issues here.

What we have in our Social Security law is what is called a Government Pension Offset or GPO. What this means that if someone works for an employer that has its own government pension system, like the Texas Retirement System, and has a spouse who worked for an employer who subscribed to the Social Security System, they cannot file a claim for spousal benefits from the SSA. Why? Well that would be double-dipping, right? So they have this “Windfall Elimination Provision” in the Social Security Act to prevent thieving double-dipper teachers.

Oh, incidentally, if you pay in to the Social Security System, and also your spouse, there’s no problem getting spousal benefits.

And by the way, if one has worked for an employer who paid into SSA, and then worked for an employer who pays into TRS, upon retirement, the person does get to claim pensions from both systems, but the SSA chops some of what they would have paid off, this made possible by the same Windfall Elimination Provision.

Nice, huh?

So Lightseeker described Chronicle article and mentioned that the article brings up just these issues at the bottom of the piece. Leaving at the top the newsworthy bit about how Texas teachers will end up costing the federal retirement system 2.2 billion dollars – not mentioning that this cost would have been incurred anyway if Texas teachers were playing on a level playing field.

And finished with this:
"Way to go Chronicle! I don't know how this story got spun now, but I suspect that maybe the issue of that law that closed the loophole is going to be revisited soon. I have no time this AM to check it, maybe somebody else can......”
OK, no problem, let’s see what I can do on that.

First, the story is about the latest Social Security Audit report issued on January 8, 2007 by Patrick Carroll’s office (Inspector General). I had a heck of a time finding it online because when you click on the link to the PDF of the report, you get a PDF of the second most recently issued report. But click here and you get to read the report.

But why do a timely article on a 2 month old report – an article that lifts much of its text from the report itself? Not sure. It could be because of legislation filed late in January by Congressman Barney Frank (D - Mass-4). HR 726 will seriously curtail the GPO-WEP elements in the Social Security Act. This bill, in one form or another has been filed in earlier sessions of congress, and has had a majority of congressmen co-sponsoring it. Tom DeLay, in his role as Majority Whip, consistently blocked the bill from going to the floor for a vote.

With a new Democratic majority, Frank’s bill finally has a chance of being voted on, and passing, especially in view of the bi-partisan support that the recently passed Employee Free Choice Act received.

On timing, though, I just don’t know. The bill has been referred by the House Ways and Means Committee to the Subcommittee on Social Security. I couldn't find mention of when it will pass out of committee to the floor.

Oh well.

One last thing that the Chronicle article did not report on, is what happened to Texas’ veteran teacher population in 2004 when the loophole mentioned in the article was closed by congress. That year, tens of thousands of veteran teachers found jobs for a day in school districts that subscribe to the Social Security System. Some of them so they could claim spousal benefits, others so they could collect fully from both the TRS and SSA funds.

Tens of thousands of veteran teachers in Texas were forced to retire in 2004 because the loophole was going to close. All of this at a time when public education in Texas is rated near the bottom of the list. OK, why not just hire them back and let them collect their retirement at the same time? TRS told Texas school districts not to do this as it would offset a teacher who would pay into their system.

In the end, it’s not about educating our children is it? It’s about bureaucracy and money.

And Texas teachers getting slammed one more time.

1 comment:

joankelsy said...

Hello, Texas
Became aware of GPO-WEP since I moved to Massachusetts. Wonder how Police and Firemen do in retirement, certainly well deserved. Unfortunately, the teachers and ancillary municipal employees are predominately female. Perhaps they have not yet discovered the right buttons to push on a local level.
[Not to digress too much, I had worked as an R.N. for the State of New York. Guys that worked a fork lift, say, were on a pay scale which considered occupational danger. The nursing staff was exposed to life-threatening scenarios, like handling dirty syringes. Alas, women were at the bottom of the curve.]
To get back to the GPO-WEP laws, some have blogged, let's fix that. T h i n k. People have found ways to pump up their overtime or otherwise cheat the system. Go after them.
Frankly, I say repeal GPO and WEP.
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