In January of 1940, Ida May Fuller of Ludlow, Vermont, received a check for $22.54. The 65-year-old retired legal secretary was the first person to collect a regular monthly Social Security benefit.

She was among the 222,000 Americans to receive regular benefits that year, which, adjusted for inflation, would today amount to about $5,000 annually. Eighty years later, some 61 million Americans – seniors, surviving spouses and children, and people with disabilities, receive annual benefits averaging $18,000. In 2019, nearly 350,000 Mainers received Social Security, with benefits totaling more than $455 million.

The Social Security Act was signed into law 85 years ago, on Aug. 14, 1935. On that transformative occasion, President Franklin Roosevelt said, “We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”

During my service in the Senate, I have consistently adhered to certain guiding principles about SocialSecurity. The first, and most fundamental, is that Social Security is the foundation of retirement income for most Americans. I am committed to preserving and strengthening this vital program that, supplemented by savings, has made the difference between poverty and a comfortable retirement for millions of Americans.

Although Social Security is an essential part of retirement income for the majority of Americans, certain public service employees are prevented from receiving their full Social Security benefits due to two provisions of Social Security law – the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO). These provisions unfairly reduce the earned Social Security benefits of those who are eligible for federal, state or local pensions from work that was not covered by Social Security, but who also qualify for Social Security benefits based on their own work in covered employment or that of their spouse. While the GPO and WEP affect public employees and retirees in virtually every state, their impact is most acute in particular states, including Maine.

The WEP and GPO have enormous financial implications not just for certain federal and postal employees, but for our teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees as well. The WEPreduces earned Social Security benefits for retirees who paid into Social Security and who also receive a government pension from work not covered under Social Security, such as pensions from the Maine State Retirement Fund. In 2020, the WEP can reduce monthly Social Security benefits by up to $480. The GPO reduces an individual’s spouse or survivor benefit under Social Security. More than 70 percent of public employees affected by the GPO lose their entire spousal or survivor benefit. The GPO also has a disproportionate effect on women – in 2019, 83 percent of those affected by the GPO were women.

Many Maine teachers, in particular, have talked with me about this issue. They love their jobs and the children they teach, but they worry about the future and about their financial security in retirement. I recently received a letter from a Maine public school teacher who will be affected by both the WEP and GPO when she retires. Early in her career, she held various jobs where she paid into Social Security, but due to the WEP, these earned Social Security benefits will be reduced because she decided to become a teacher. The GPO will also prevent her from receiving a survivor benefit based on her husband’s earned Social Security. This just isn’t right.

Mainers who devote their lives to public service should not be penalized when it come to their Social Security. This is why I have led the bipartisan effort in the Senate to address the WEP and GPO. I held the first Senate oversight hearing on these two Social Security provisions. I have consistently been a lead sponsor of the bipartisan Social Security Fairness Act, which would fully repeal both the WEP and GPO. Recently, I urged the Senate Finance Committee to address the WEP and GPO as part of a future COVID-19 relief package.

The disparate impact of the WEP and GPO on states has made it a challenge to get broad support for full repeal of these unfair policies. Despite this difficulty, I remain committed to remedying these long-standing inequities and ensuring that those who teach our children, keep us safe, and help us access needed public services receive the full Social Security benefits they have earned.

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