Education lobby asks for access to Social Security

One local teacher hopes President Barack Obama will have a favorable attitude toward overturning two provisions that under certain circumstances deny Social Security benefits to members of public-employee pension plans.

Chris Hobbs, a teacher at Thunder Mountain Elementary and a member of the Colorado Education Association board of directors, said her group will lobby to overturn the government pension offset and the windfall-elimination provision. Both laws, Hobbs said, deny Social Security benefits to people who should be receiving them.

“What they do is penalize me for being a public employee.”

The government pension offset reduces or eliminates survivor Social Security benefits if the deceased’s spouse is a member of a public pension plans such as the Public Employees’ Retirement Association.

Normally, Social Security benefits pass on to the spouse in the event of a death.

Hobbs said Social Security survivor benefits for spouses continue to be paid to PERA members until the member retires and begins drawing PERA benefits. The Social Security survivor benefits would then cease.

The windfall elimination reduces or eliminates Social Security benefits that already have been paid into Social Security by employees who switch to a career with a public pension.

“There are some people who chose to not switch jobs because of this,” Hobbs said.

“Suddenly, they’re like, ‘Whoa, is this worth it?’ ”

Hobbs said she was part of a National Education Association team that lobbied to repeal the two laws last year and won considerable support.

They were told, however, any bills sent on to then-President George W. Bush would get vetoed. The NEA decided to wait until a new president took office, she said.

Hobbs said Obama supported repealing the laws when he was a senator, but she realizes lobbying now will have to wait until the economy has settled.

“We recognize there are serious issues with the economy, but this would be an economic stimulus,” Hobbs said. “Right now, we have people who have to retire into assistance programs because they’re living below the poverty line.”

Hobbs said the two laws affect about 1.5 million retirees, which would add costs to Social
Security if the laws were repealed.

“But the way I see it is these people have already fulfilled their part of the Social Security contract,” she said. “They’re not asking for money they didn’t already put into it.”

Hobbs said the next step will be to garner support among Colorado lawmakers to repeal the laws.


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