Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA) introduced legislation on Sept. 27 that promises to “fix the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) for future retirees and provide meaningful relief to current WEP retirees.”
WEP reduces the Social Security benefits of local, state and federal retirees who worked in Social Security-covered employment (e.g., private-sector jobs) and who also receive a government annuity from their non-Social Security covered government employment.
There have been several bills in recent years that proposed to eliminate the WEP. In July 2019, Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) introduced the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2019 (HR 3934) which would permanently repeal the WEP.
According to Neal, Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act (HR 4540) would establish a new “fairer formula that will pay Social Security benefits in proportion to the share of a worker’s earnings that were covered for Social Security purposes.”
Neal says the provision is coupled with a benefit guarantee ensuring no benefit cuts relative to current law for all current and future retirees. Current WEP retirees will receive $150 a month in relief payments, Neal stated on his website.
“The WEP negatively affects nearly 2 million retired public servants across the country, including about 73,000 in Massachusetts,” said Neal. “Public employees like firefighters, teachers, and police officers should not miss out on the Social Security benefits they earned over decades of hard work. With this legislation, these valued members of our communities will have greater retirement security and peace of mind.”
“Members on both sides of the aisle can get behind this legislation and the solutions it puts forward,” added Neal. “I want to commend Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Kevin Brady for his work to address the WEP issue for many years. He is a tireless advocate for affected workers, and I appreciate his commitment to fixing this problem. I look forward to working with him to move a solution through Congress expediently.”
An overview of the Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act — provided by Congressman Neal’s office — is below.
Overview: Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act – H.R. 4540
The Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act fixes the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) by introducing a new proportional formula, provides meaningful WEP relief to current retirees, includes a benefit guarantee so that no current or future retirees can be worse off as a result of the bill, and ensures that public servants across the nation can retire with the security and dignity they deserve.
Originally, the WEP was intended to equalize the Social Security benefit formula for workers with similar earnings histories, both inside and outside of the Social Security system. However, in practice, it has unfairly penalized many public employees. Currently, 1.8 million Social Security beneficiaries are affected by the WEP. The much-needed reform in this bill provides meaningful WEP relief to current retirees and public employees while treating all workers fairly.
Current Retirees: Immediate Relief Payments
The bill provides immediate relief to current Social Security beneficiaries affected by the WEP. Current beneficiaries (and those turning 62 before 2022) who are affected by the WEP due to their own public service work will receive an extra $150 a month, starting nine months after enactment and continuing for as long as the eligible individuals are receiving Social Security benefits. The relief amount cannot exceed the size of each person’s current WEP reduction.
Future Retirees: New Formula and Benefit Guarantee
Future retirees (those turning 62 in 2022 and later) will be eligible for a new, fairer benefit formula, called the Public Servant Protection (PSP) formula. The PSP formula calculates benefit amounts based on the proportion of lifetime earnings covered by Social Security.
The Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act includes critical protections to ensure that no one receives a lower benefit a result of this legislation. First, it maintains the current WEP exemptions (i.e., for individuals not receiving a pension, and for those with 30 years of coverage) and extends them to the PSP as well. That is, people are exempt from both the PSP and the WEP if they have 30 or more years of coverage or if they do not receive any pension based on their state or local employment.
In addition, the bill provides a benefit guarantee for all future retirees: if someone’s PSP benefit is not as high as their WEP benefit, they will automatically receive the higher benefit. This guarantee is permanent, applying to all future retirees.
About seven in 10 future retirees affected by the WEP will receive a higher benefit under the new PSP formula, with the increase averaging about $75 a month. The remaining three in 10 are protected by the benefit guarantee and will see no change in benefits because they already receive higher benefits under the WEP than they would under the proportional formula due to their specific earnings patterns. They will get to keep that higher amount. Finally, the bill shields millions of other public servants from being newly subjected to the WEP or PSP.
The bill also improves the Social Security Statement for affected workers, so that future benefit amounts will not be a surprise. Finally, it protects the Social Security trust funds with general revenue transfers to cover these costs, so as not to penalize other workers’ retirement security even as we correct the urgent problems with the WEP.
The full text of the bill can be read here.