Retired Educators Taking Action on Social Security

By Cynthia McCabe

NEA members concerned about getting back in retirement the money they earned during their public service careers plan to take action next month to ensure that happens.

On Dec. 1, a bipartisan group will release recommendations that could have a far-reaching impact on the retirement of educators and other public servants. That group, called the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, must identify steps that could improve the fiscal health of the nation.

Some members of the Commission have already publicly stated their desire to cut Social Security — a move that could spell long-term problems.

“Excessive fear of debt and a zeal for debt reduction without careful consideration of the consequences can lead to hasty, rash decisions that could seriously undermine public policy for decades to come,” NEA labor economist David Schlein said in testifying to the commission in June.

He pointed to historic examples after World War II in the U.S. and Great Britain when some of the most significant economic growth of those countries came during periods of relatively high debt.

Today, Social Security has a surplus of $2.6 trillion and does not contribute to the national deficit.  Yet the retirement age has already been raised from 65 to 66, and it will go to 67 in 2022. Some in Congress have proposed raising it to 70, which would mean a 20 percent cut in benefits.

NEA is stressing to the National Commission that it must protect the money that educators earned. It’s also pressing for the repeal of the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision, which penalize some public employees by cutting or eliminating Social Security benefits that they or their spouse have earned.

Like widow Lynn Brooks Hunt (above), who retired after 30 years in Maine classrooms, and now works two jobs because of her paltry Social Security payment. Hunt was 45 when her husband died at age 53. She’s entitled to $1,700 a month in spousal benefits but because she was a teacher it’s reduced to $188 a month.

“I told both of my kids, ‘Don’t go into teaching.,’”’ Hunt says. (Read more of Hunt’s story and others like hers in This Active Life, the magazine for NEA-Retired members.)

In July, members of a commission-monitoring task force created by NEA met with the commission’s executive director, sharing NEA members’ Social Security priorities, and NEA testified before the commission and submitted written testimony to it this summer.

It joined Social Security Works and its related Strengthen Social Security Coalition, a group of more than 60 organizations representing 30 million members dedicated to strengthening Social Security.

And NEA’s efforts are already paying dividends. A group of U.S House members wrote to President Obama this summer opposing Social Security cuts.

Now the Association’s 275,000 retired members are mobilizing, visiting the Legislative Action Center at nea.org/lac to contact commission members and urge them to repeal GPO/WEP and protect and strengthen Social Security. And they’re signing the Strengthen Social Security Coalition petition to the Commission at strengthensocialsecurity.org.

Photos: Kevin Brusie (Hunt); Sara Robertson (Van Roekel)