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The Houston Chronicle: Bill would restore Social Security benefits to some retirees

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Washington, December 16, 2014 | comments
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady has introduced a bill that would right what he sees as an unjust benefit cut for retired teachers and first responders.
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U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady has introduced a bill that would right what he sees as an unjust benefit cut for retired teachers and first responders.

Unveiled Monday in Houston, Brady's bill would repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision, legislation passed three decades ago that sought to curtail excess and unearned Social Security benefits by workers who had not paid into the system. The Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act, sponsored by Brady, a Montgomery County Republican, and Massachusetts Democrat Richard Neal, would replace that provision with a fairer formula, the congressman said.

"Social Security is extremely complicated, and through its formulas, it often doesn't treat people fairly," Brady said. "Let's treat public servants the same as any other Americans."

Under the existing law, government workers who do not pay Social Security taxes and instead receive a pension receive a modified Social Security benefit. According to the Social Security Administration, 1.5 million retired and disabled workers currently receive a reduction in benefits averaging just under $275 a month.

Windfall Elimination Provision, passed in 1983, primarily hurts those who have changed careers midway through their lives. Those workers may have earned a pension, but only a small Social Security check when they retire.

The logic of the provision is to prevent double-dipping: someone who only paid Social Security taxes for a brief time - perhaps someone who worked in the private sector before becoming a longtime teacher - from collecting the same benefits as someone who earned no pension but similar lifetime earnings over their course of their entire career.

Brady, a senior member of the Ways & Means Committee who unsuccessfully sought the chairmanship of the powerful committee recently, derided the adjustment as artificial. His bill would use a formula to generate a check that correlates more closely to the actual number of years paid into the system.

"Once they're at an age to draw Social Security, they get punished," said Todd Clark, chairman of the Houston Firefighters' Relief and Retirement Fund. "Public employees are not asking for anything other than what they've paid into."

Brady has tried and failed to pass this legislation several times since 2004, but its price tag has been "too large to overcome," he said. This iteration of the bill, according to the Social Security Administration, is revenue-neutral. That figure, combined with The Woodlands' congressman's increasing clout, may give it better luck in the next Congress.

"It's been a while since this issue's been on people's radar, so we're going to really have to spend the next half of next year reeducating lawmakers about the problem and about the solution," Brady said.

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