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June/July 2007

By Ramona du Houx

Governor John Baldacci joined Congressman Tom Allen, Congressman Michael Michaud, legislators and supporters to call for the repeal of the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). Representatives from Senators Snowe and Collins were also present, showing bipartisan support from Maine’s congressional delegation for the repeal.

The GPO and the WEP were originally developed, over thirty years ago, to keep the very wealthy from unnecessarily dipping into Social Security. However the law has had the opposite results with nearly 400,000 people, including teachers, firefighters, social workers, and police officers losing Social Security benefits they should be entitled to receive.

“I am an original cosponsor of H.R. 82, the Social Security Fairness Act of 2007. This bill would eliminate both the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision. I have cosponsored similar legislation in every Congress since I entered the House in 1996,” said Rep. Allen.

Because Republicans held key leadership roles in Congress for over a decade, previous attempts to repeal this damaging law never saw the light of day.

“Unfortunately, Republican leadership in the House of Representatives did not allow a vote on this bill for the past twelve years,” said the congressman. “However, I am confident that the newly elected Democratic majority will allow proper debate and a vote on this important legislation.”

The GPO often substantially reduces or eliminates the spousal or widow’s benefit of those eligible for a federal, state, or local government pension not covered by Social Security. It is particularly harmful to government retirees with small pensions.

More than 50 percent of Maine’s state and local government employees are not covered by Social Security and are affected by the GPO. Many retirees don’t anticipate these unexpected reductions in their spousal benefits caused by the GPO. When the reductions happen, many are unprepared and have to change their lifestyles, all too often cutting back on necessities.

“Retirees with a non-covered government pension often discover, upon retirement, that the WEP reduces their Social Security benefits by up to 50 percent. For many retirees this reduction is unanticipated, and on a fixed income it is often unaffordable,” said Allen.

“We all support the effort to repeal these very erroneous rules, and, frankly, they’re siphoning money off from Mainers,” said Governor Baldacci. “You work your whole life, and at retirement age they all of a sudden tell you, because of these rule changes we’re going to take two-thirds of your retirement, and we’re going to leave it in a treasury in Washington.”

A joint resolution was presented in the Maine House and Senate by Rep. Seth Berry calling on Congress to end the Offset and Windfall provisions.

“We’re looking at over 14 billion dollars nationally that our civil servants have earned, but they never saw,” said Rep. Seth Berry. “That money comes from our taxpayers.”

The bill in Washington has more than 300 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 30 in the Senate.

“When he served with me in Congress, the Governor was a strong supporter of GPO/WEP repeal, as Congressman Michaud has been since he entered the House,” stated Allen. “All of the elected officials here share my admiration and appreciation for the devotion our government retirees gave to their jobs. We depended on our retired police officers and firefighters to protect our property and our safety. We relied upon our retired civil servants to plow the snow, fix the potholes, protect our environment, and perform countless tasks we could not do individually. We entrusted our most precious resource — our children — to our retired teachers for the education that would give them the opportunity to succeed and enjoy prosperity. Our government retirees devoted their working lives to public service, but because of the GPO and the WEP, many of them have found their anticipated retirement incomes slashed at great hardship to them and their families.”

Allen is confident that Congress will take positive action on H.R. 82. “Where ever I go in Maine I always hear about these provisions. The time has come to repeal them,” said Allen.