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Educators urge Congress to protect their Social Security

WASHINGTON -- Peg Cagle, an architect with 15 years experience, entered the classroom during the 1990s to meet California's growing demand for math and science teachers.  But when she retires, she will pay a huge and unexpected price for her dedication to the children of the Los Angeles Unified School District due to a Social Security offset -- the Windfall Elimination Provision.

"I knew that my career move would result in an immediate pay cut," said Cagle. "I did not realize, however, that I would suffer further financial penalties upon retirement. Had I been fully informed at the time, I seriously doubt that I would have chosen to embark on a career in public service."

WEP significantly reduces the Social Security benefit for former private sector employees who retire with a pension from public sector employment not covered by Social Security. Currently, educators in about 15 states do not pay into the Social Security system. WEP penalizes individuals, like Cagle, who spent part of their careers in jobs not covered by Social Security.  Some have seen their Social Security benefits reduced by as much as $328 a month.

Cagle, who testified on the matter before a House subcommittee this morning, later joined NEA President Reg Weaver and Representatives Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) in calling on Congress to pass the Social Security Fairness Act, which would repeal WEP and another punitive provision -- the Government Pension Offset.

Margaret Kane, a retired Wilmington teacher and MTA Retired member, testified before a Senate panel in November 2007.

The Government Pension Offset affects people who are eligible for a pension from public sector employment not covered by Social Security and Social Security's survivor/dependent benefit. GPO reduces their survivor/dependent benefit by two-thirds of their public pension. The reductions in benefits are significant -- about 300,000 people lose an average of $3,600 a year because of this offset.

"When you are on a fixed income and have lost a spouse, this amount can make the difference between self-sufficiency and poverty," said Cagle. "Without changes at the federal level, it is highly unlikely that knowledgeable and passionate individuals will choose to leave the private sector to become educators in our public schools."

NEA has rallied for many years to eliminate these unfair provisions in Social Security law that deny educators of full retirement benefits. Weaver said the time for congressional action is long overdue.

"This is an issue of fairness, justice and respect," said Weaver. "If Congress is serious about encouraging professionals from the private sector to answer the call to teach, it must repeal these offsets. This is about respecting our public school educators enough to assure them a secure retirement."