June 07,2024

Wyden Hearing Statement on Keeping the Promise of Social Security for First Responders and Public Servants in Ohio

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Chairman Brown, for holding today’s hearing and for all the witnesses for participating. 

For nearly 90 years, Social Security has been a bedrock program on which millions of seniors and Americans with disabilities rely. Over 65 million Americans receive Social Security benefits today, including 2.6 million children. Without these earned benefits, more than 20 million Americans would now be living in poverty, including 1 million kids. 

There is no one in the Senate who understands the importance of this program for seniors and people with disabilities better than Senator Brown. He has been leading the charge in the fight to protect and strengthen Social Security for current and future generations of Americans and battling those who want to privatize the program, raise the retirement age, or advance schemes to otherwise cut benefits.  

Today, we’re talking about the impact of two Social Security provisions on families: the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset, also known as WEP and GPO. These provisions affect individuals who receive both Social Security benefits and a pension benefit paid by an employer that did not withhold Social Security taxes from their salary, also known as a non-covered pension benefit. 

Those impacted are predominantly public servants: teachers, firefighters, police officers, and state and local government employees. 

As the Chairman and witnesses on the panels know, one of Social Security’s key pillars is its progressive formula: workers who worked predominantly in lower-paying jobs receive a higher replacement rate than those who worked in higher-paying jobs. However, when the Social Security Administration calculates Americans’ benefit amount, it does not include earnings from jobs not covered by Social Security. As a result, those workers currently receive a disproportionately larger Social Security benefit than what they would receive if they had worked in employment covered by Social Security. 

To address the inadvertent windfall, Congress enacted the WEP and GPO provisions in an effort to ensure fair treatment among workers who worked in covered and non-covered employment. However, rather than taking into account workers’ covered and non-covered earnings when calculating the Social Security benefit amount, the WEP and GPO are a “one-size-hits-all” reduction, slashing Social Security benefits by up to 60 percent. These Americans chose a life of service; we should not be unfairly penalizing them.

I am proud to announce that I will be supporting Senator Brown’s legislation, the Social Security Fairness Act, and am committed to working with Senator Brown and colleagues to address this issue while protecting Social Security’s finances. 

While I am not able to attend the hearing today, I look forward to working with the Chairman on these issues going forward.