- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004

Each year, roughly 150,000 retired people — most of them women who worked for the federal, state or local government — slip close to or below the poverty level when they come up against the so-called Social Security offset law.

Congress approved the offset in the late 1970s to prevent retired feds from collecting both a civil service annuity — for which they helped pay — and a spousal or survivor Social Security benefit — for which they did not pay.

The formula has the effect of reducing the Social Security survivor/spousal benefit entirely. That leaves the former civil servant with their own pension. Period.

Efforts to modify or repeal the offset formula got a jump-start last year when groups representing active and retired schoolteachers — a powerhouse in states such as New York and California — joined the repeal effort.

About 350,000 people have lost their Social Security spousal/survivor benefits. That number increases dramatically each year as more public employees who have their own retirement plans outside Social Security retire.

The fight to modify the offset is being led in the Senate by Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, and Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and in the House by Reps. William J. Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat, and Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican.

2005 pay raise

Lobbyists know better than to make things look too easy, and the media can make even drying paint seem controversial and fraught with peril. Without the crises du jour, both groups would have to seek other employment. So, if you are a fed, don’t lose too much sleep about your 2005 pay raise. Odds are you will get one, and it will be the maximum amount that traffic will bear.

While many firms are cutting back on health care benefits, laying off longtime employees or giving new hires lower pay and benefits, the money issue for government workers is whether the next pay raise will be 1.5 percent or 3.5 percent. The White House, which has lost the past 10 pay struggles with Congress, has proposed a 1.5 percent raise for January. The Senate Budget Committee has endorsed the concept of pay raise parity, meaning a 3.5 percent adjustment for civilian and military personnel.

The House failed to back the equal-raise language, but that means little.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, and Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, are expected to push for the higher raise for their constituents. In the Senate, Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, and Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, will push the higher amount for feds.

Bottom line: The pay raise isn’t a sure thing, but given past performance, it is pretty much on track.

Mike Causey, senior editor at FederalNewsRadio.com, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or [email protected]

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