BANGOR, Maine — Veazie resident Richard Averill spent 29 years working for both the Maine Department of Transportation and the Maine Air National Guard, but when he retired he learned he was only getting half of the Social Security benefits he had earned over the decades.
“If I had worked another year, one month and nine days, I would have qualified for full benefits,” Averill said Monday just outside 6 State St. in Bangor, where U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin announced that he supports recalling two Social Security provisions to help Mainers like Averill who worked as public employees.
Under existing rules, “they take 50 percent of my Social Security benefits,” Averill said.
The windfall elimination provision and the government pension offset of the Social Security program are designed to prevent double dipping by public employees, according to previous Bangor Daily News stories. But the decades-old provisions also hurt some public servants in Maine and 14 other states, where employees pay into state-based programs such as the Maine State Retirement System, Poliquin said.
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Upon retirement, these public servants “realize, sometimes for the first time, that they haven’t received all of their Social Security benefits,” Poliquin said to those who crammed into his downtown Bangor campaign office. “This is a problem we desperately need to fix.”
Teachers, police officers, firefighters, game wardens and civil servants at the Maine Army and Air Guard are among the public employees affected in Maine.
The government pension offset reduces an individual’s survivor benefit under Social Security by two-thirds of the amount of his or her public pension and sometimes eliminates Social Security benefits paid to a spouse, widow or widower who already receives a government pension.
The windfall elimination provision reduces Social Security benefits for retirees who took a second job in the private sector and thus paid into both Social Security and the Maine State Retirement Fund.
The laws were put on the books in the early 1980s and several efforts have been made to appeal or amend them over the years.
“The good news is for the first time … we now have 178 co-sponsors, both Republicans and Democrats, to repeal the windfall elimination provision,” Poliquin said of House bill H.R.711, titled Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act, that was filed by Reps. Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts, and Kevin Brady, R-Texas.
He said another 150 representatives have co-sponsored H.R. 973, titled the Social Security Fairness Act, that was filed by Reps. Rodney Davis, R-Illinois, and Adam Schiff, D-California, and would repeal both the windfall and offset provisions.
Chellie Pingree is already a sponsor, Poliquin said, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are supporting a Senate version of the bill.
“This is not about politics. It’s about doing what is right,” Poliquin said.
The congressman told those in attendance that he would battle to get the Social Security bills passed, but also asked for patience from constituents.
“This is going to be a tough sleigh,” Poliquin said.
He and his staff penned 205 letters to those members of the U.S. House who have not yet sponsored one of the two bills and mailed them out on Monday.
Bangor resident Bob Alexander, who works for the Bangor Housing Authority, and a woman whose husband taught school for nearly 40 years, but who didn’t identify herself, spoke at the rally on Monday about how the two policies have negatively affected their lives.
Afterward, veteran and former Republican state Rep. Doug Damon of Bangor, who is running to serve the 126th District in November, said most full-time military personnel on the airbase in Bangor are employed as civil servants, which triggers the offset provision.
“With civil servants, they take 40 percent off the top,” said Damon, who is a U.S. Air Force and Maine Air Guard veteran with 35 years of service under his belt, including 26 years at the base in Bangor. “It’s automatic.”
Poliquin said since he took office, he has received a couple thousand letters regarding the windfall and offset provisions from residents all over Maine. He mentioned several during his press rally.
Alexander said he paid into Social Security for 29 years and then took a job with the Bangor Housing Authority 15 years ago, when he began paying into the Maine Retirement System.
Because he didn’t meet the 30-year minimum for full benefits, he said he loses $200 a month in Social Security funds.
“This is a tremendous amount of money,” he said. “Those of us who earned it should get it.”