WESTBROOK — The editorial “Our View: Time to retire unfair ‘double dipping’ charge” (Sept. 10) is exactly right. Unfortunately, it addresses only half of the unfairness problem faced by retired teachers and other public employees in Maine. Legislation is also needed to curb the harsh and inequitable effects of the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset.

I do not have a Maine Public Employees Retirement System pension. My wife, who is a former teacher and high school administrator, does have a state pension. Because of the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset, she faces a huge reduction in the Social Security benefits to which she would otherwise be entitled – both those benefits she earned through summer and non-school employment and those that would accrue to her as my spouse based on my earnings.

As a teacher and administrator, my wife did not pay into the Social Security system through payroll taxes. So it makes sense – and seems fair – that she should not receive Social Security based on her earnings as an educator. But she did pay into Social Security. Like lots of other teachers and school folks, she had employment in the private sector before becoming a teacher (while in college, etc.) and during the summer, when she worked as a waitress to supplement her teaching salary. In those jobs, she did contribute to Social Security through the payroll taxes deducted from her pay. And I have always paid into the Social Security system (other than a brief period when I was working in state government).

The Windfall Elimination Provision reduces by about 40 percent the benefit she is entitled to receive based on her own non-school earnings. If I predecease her, the Government Pension Offset will reduce the benefits she would receive as my spouse by two-thirds of the amount of her MainePERS pension. As a result, these spousal Social Security benefits for which we both paid into the Social Security system will amount to little or nothing for her.

There is no justification that passes the “straight face test” for the Windfall Elimination Provision (as applied to non-school earnings) or for the Government Pension Offset. These policies are unfair and illogical. It is not just retired Maine teachers and state employees who suffer the effects of these policies. Public employees in many other states are treated similarly.

However, not all teachers and public employees are hit by the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset. Public employees in states that do not have their own state-run pension plans (but instead use the Social Security system) do not experience the unfairness of the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset.

Still other states allow employees to choose which retirement system they want (Social Security or state pension). Finally, some states, like New Jersey, have public employees contribute to both the state pension and Social Security. While paying into two retirement systems takes a bigger bite out of current pay, those employees receive retirement benefits from both their state pension and Social Security.

Unless Maine chooses to rely on Social Security instead of (or in addition to) our state-run pension, this is not a problem Maine can solve. A federal solution is needed to remedy the harsh effects of the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset. However, this is an issue likely to be addressed only when Congress takes up the challenges of Social Security solvency and deficit reduction. Since Congress these days seems to “kick the can down the road” whenever possible, unfortunately there may be no relief on the horizon for Maine’s retired teachers and other public employees.

Many of our state employees have jobs that are complex and overwhelming. Those working in public education, in particular, are both underappreciated and underpaid. Removing the illogical and adverse impact of the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset would be a small step toward helping our educators and other public employees “feel the love,” and feel like they are finally being treated respectfully and equitably.

 


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