Joint resolution looks to better protect Social Security benefits

Senator Scott Wilk of the 21st district.

Senate Joint Resolution 3, which seeks to help residents retain their Social Security benefits during a career change, unanimously passed the state Senate Committee on Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Wednesday.

SJR 3, authored by Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, petitions Congress and President Trump to repeal two federal retirement benefit laws that reduce Social Security benefits in certain circumstances for public employees and their spouses, according to a news release from Wilk’s office.

The targeted laws include the Government Pension Offset (GPO), which cuts benefits when an individual receives a government pension and their spouse is eligible for Social Security from non-government employment, and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which cuts an individual’s benefits when they are eligible for Social Security and government pensions from separate employers.

Both the GPO and WEP were passed in the 1970s with little statistical analysis in an effort to prevent “double-dipping” from Social Security and other government pensions, the resolution’s analysis states, mentioning more than 300,000 California retirees have had their Social Security benefits diminished or eliminated by the WEP and GPO in the 30 years they’ve been enacted.

“While this seems complicated, it is not. Some of our hardest-working public servants, including peace officers, firefighters and educators, see their Social Security benefit slashed because of these federal policies,” Wilk said in Thursday’s release. “These policies disproportionately impact women and the federal government needs to ensure retirees receive the benefits they have rightfully earned.”

Wilk said the practice is unfair for a number of reasons — especially once you consider:

  • If one had a non-public-sector career but wanted to become a teacher later in life, then the Social Security benefits they earned from their original career would be eliminated or slashed.
  • The ramifications of the penalty are usually discovered when a spouse dies and a widow’s household income is dramatically reduced because Social Security benefits are gutted.
  • If you work in the private sector, pay Social Security and are the spouse of a person who is eligible for a pension that does not pay into Social Security, then the benefits you rightfully earned will be diminished, sometimes by up to 50 percent.

Other consequences of the “problematic policies” are they disproportionately affect lower-income workers and can discourage qualified individuals from seeking public-sector jobs, Wilk said. This means experts in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, or those who have good careers in aerospace, might not consider second careers in education because of the ramifications to their retirement as a result of the WEP and GPO.

“These laws were intended to prevent people from taking advantage of the government, but instead, they have resulted in the government taking advantage of its people,” the senator added. “I am thankful to my colleagues on the committee for helping me take this step forward, and I hope the federal government will hear us and finally take action.”

As of Tuesday, no groups have come out in opposition to the bill, but the California Association of Highway Patrol, California Retired Teachers Association, California State Teachers’ Retirement System, California Teachers Association, Peace Officers’ Research Association of California and Retired Public Employees Association have all declared their support, according to the bill’s analysis.

The joint resolution now heads to the floor for consideration by the full Senate.

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