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ACCCEA MINUTES August 13, 2002 Mark Goodrich called the meeting to order at 12:05. He recognized our guest retirees and welcomed them. Judy Doyen informed members and guests that if they are using Health Select Plus for prescription drugs that they need to place their orders by the end of the month because Health Select Plus is changing. Judy Doyen recognized Classified employees who will be honored at General Assembly on August 23. 10 years service 15 years service 20 years service 25 years service Gwendolyn Brown Ric Cantu Matilda Morales Carol Harper Melissa Brown Katy Gott Joyce Williams-Jackson Mary Swart Judy Green Geoff Guynn Christina Lozano Vicki Mynatt Craig Pierce Sonia Stewart Marleen Vigo Tomi Welch Tomi Welch won the first door prize, a colorful Austin tee shirt. Judy Green introduced and welcomed each of our six retired classified employees and asked each to tell what they had done at ACC and what they were doing now that they are retired. Joe Morales was a Mechanical Supervisor in the Maintenance Department. He now baby-sits his grandchildren. Renee Wardrum was an Administrative Assistant in the Health Sciences area and has been retired a year and a month. She does a lot of volunteer work in her church and at the Senior Activities Center. Melba Schneider worked in the Business Office and now spends three or four days of the week at a ranch they bought. She is tending 11 cows and 1 donkey. She also spends a lot of her time baby-sitting the grandchildren. She stated that she was very proud of her son being elected to the ACC Board of Trustees. Ellie Wielunski worked in Admissions and Records and now assists during registration on the Helpline. Rita Webster worked in the Executive Deans office at Northridge. She stays busy taking care of her husband Dwight, her children and their children. She also does volunteer work at her church. Rita began the Texas Brain Injury Association when her own daughter was injured and suffered a very serious brain injury. She is helping them out on a temporary basis. (Tomi – worked in Tech/Prep and since retiring has built a new swimming pool where she spends most of her time exercising. Al Kaiser introduced the slate of officers for 2002 – 2003. They are: Jill Taylor – President/Elect (resigned from ACC, see New Business below) Secretary – Jackie Pool Parliamentarian – Al Kaiser Jill is moving to Houston and therefore ACCCEA will conduct a special election to fill her position as soon as possible. Process will be by hard copy ballot. Representatives at large are as follows: Shawna Berry Sue Bloodsworth Pam Brownlee Mark Goodrich Kerry Landfield Matilda Morales Millie Marquis Jackie Pool Margie Shellnut Tomi Welch Donna Caraway won the second door prize of another colorful Austin tee shirt. Mark Goodrich stated that the Comptroller’s draft report was ready and would be discussed on Thursday afternoon. He and Judy Doyen will attend the preliminary meeting. Old Business Mark asked that if you are already assigned a committee that you email him so things could be lined up for the in-coming officers. Thanks were extended to the Budget committee for their hard work and for serving the interests of the classified employees. Classified employees will continue to be paid on a bi-monthly basis not monthly as was suggested. New Business Jill Taylor thanked everyone for their support during her family emergency. She stated that her husband had been promoted and they will be moving to Houston. Jill passed out flyers about a Blood Drive that will be conducted on September 12 at Riverside from 8:00 – 10:30 AM. Sue Bloodsworth will be handling details at RVS. Donna Pitts will handle details at Northridge prior to the blood mobile being there on September 24 from 2:30 – 5:00 PM. Shawna Berry won the third and last door prize, a wonderful book, Treasury of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Judy Doyen stated that Dr. Fonte would write a letter of support on behalf of the ACC employees covered by TRS to the Texas Legislature about the Social Security Government Offset. Retirees then discussed their retirement experiences. Some were successful and others were not in getting around this legislative barrier. (Secretary’s note: Attached are copies of an article dated August 17, 2002, from the Austin American Statesman and an article from Staff and Wire Reports.) Meeting was adjourned at 1:00. Respectfully submitted by: __________________________________________ __________________________________ Jackie Pool, Secretary Date Teachers excel in creativity with pensions FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS Saturday, August 17, 2002 Almost 4,800 retired Texas teachers have taken advantage of a provision in the Social Security law that allows them to collect Teacher Retirement System benefits as well as full Social Security benefits when their spouse dies. The provision, detailed Thursday in a General Accounting Office report, is expected to cost the federal government an estimated $450 million over the lifetime of the retired teachers. GAO investigators predicted that the cost will only go higher as others take advantage of the law. "This affects everybody who depends on Social Security," said Rep. Clay Shaw, a Florida Republican who chairs the House subcommittee on Social Security. The provision cited in the GAO study allows Texas teachers and others to get around a federal law that reduces spousal benefits available under Social Security for government retirees who were exempt from paying Social Security taxes. A person retiring from a teaching job would see Social Security spousal benefits reduced by two- thirds of that teacher's pension. But teachers retiring from a job that requires paying Social Security taxes -- even for only one day -- become eligible for full spousal benefits, plus their full pension from the Teacher Retirement System. The provision has prompted retiring teachers to seek temporary jobs as maintenance, cafeteria and office workers at a handful of Texas school districts that participate in both retirement systems. Texas and Georgia were the only two states where the loophole was being exploited widely, according to the study. Investigators found 24 cases in Georgia and 4,795 in Texas, all involving public school systems. One of them is the Coleman Independent School District, about 45 miles south of Abilene. "It started out as a few folks who knew something about this law," said Skip Casey, the Coleman superintendent. "It steadily grew, simply by word of mouth," Casey said. "It blossomed into something where we have several hundred people who come work for us for one day." Today, the district operates an Internet Web site to help teachers apply for temporary jobs from which to retire as Social Security taxpayers. A $200 fee is charged to cover the district's administrative costs. And if a teacher decides to stay longer than a month, the fee is waived. In Central Texas, the Austin Independent School District is the only district that participates in Social Security. Spokeswoman Kathy Anthony said the district does not allow teachers to transfer there just to retire. "We get a lot of calls about that," she said, "but our position is that it is fraud, and no, we will not do that." Tom Lehr, executive director of the Texas Retired Teachers Association, said the practice is completely legal. "The law states that on the last day you work, if you pay both into Social Security and the teachers' retirement system, you're exempt from the government pension offset. That's the way the law works," he said. "But the unfairness part about it as far as I'm concerned is that not everyone knew about it." Lehr said the provision has created much confusion over the years. Some teachers who took advantage of it didn't realize that, when they received an increase in their teacher's pension, the offset law required them to notify Social Security, he said. Years later, they can get billed by the Internal Revenue Service for tens of thousands of dollars. Lehr and the Texas Classroom Teachers Association support federal legislation that will eliminate the law that keeps teachers and other government employees from collecting on their spouses' Social Security benefits in the first place. The Texas Classroom Teachers Association also opposes the GAO recommendation to close the loophole. "Teachers are often surprised to learn that if they hadn't worked at all, they would be eligible for spousal benefits through Social Security," said Sue Withers, president of the classroom teachers' association and a teacher in the Gonzales school district. Jeremy Lomas of the classroom teachers' group explained that many teachers feel they are being penalized for their public service when they learn they are not entitled to the benefits their spouses earn under Social Security. "The spousal benefit is something that they would be entitled to if they were a stay-at-home mom and never really worked at all," he said. "They've not really earned it, but they are entitled to it. It's not really double-dipping; it's a double entitlement." THIS ARTICLE sent by Judy Green: News: Dallas Morning News Stories Government Pension Offset: What does it mean for teachers? 08/17/2002 By PAMELA YIP / The Dallas Morning News The Government Pension Offset is a quirk in the Social Security law that concerns public employees, especially teachers. Here are some basic questions and answers on the controversy. Question: What is the Government Pension Offset, also known as the GPO? Answer: The GPO is an amendment to the Social Security Act that affects government retirees who are eligible for two types of retirement benefits: • A pension based on their own work in a federal, state or local government job that wasn't covered by Social Security. • A Social Security benefit that a public employee would receive through his or her spouse. Question: What's the purpose of the GPO? Answer: The purpose of the offset is to make benefits more equitable across the board between those who have paid Social Security taxes and those who have not. Social Security spousal benefits are intended to provide income to wives and husbands who have little or no Social Security benefits of their own but who are financially dependent on their spouses who worked at jobs covered by Social Security. Public employees who have contributed into another pension plan such as the Teacher Retirement System of Texas and who work for a public agency not covered by Social Security aren't seen as financially dependent on spouses because they will have retirement benefits of their own. Before the offset provision was enacted by Congress in 1977, many government employees qualified for a public pension and for a spouse's benefit from Social Security, even though they weren't financially dependent on their husbands or wives. Question: How does the GPO work? Answer: The offset reduces the amount of a public employee's Social Security spouse benefits by two-thirds of the amount of the government pension. For example, if an affected teacher gets a monthly civil service pension of $600, two-thirds of that, or $400, must be used to "offset" the Social Security spousal benefits. If the teacher is eligible for a $500 spousal benefit, he or she will receive $100 per month from Social Security – $500 minus $400. Question: How many people are affected by the GPO? Answer: Nationally, at least 300,000 public employees, with the largest group being teachers, according to the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union. The impact is felt more severely in Texas because it's one of 15 states where some public employees, including teachers in many school districts, don't have Social Security taxes withheld from their paychecks. Question: How many Texas teachers are affected? Answer: The Texas Retired Teachers Association doesn't have an exact number of teachers affected by the GPO. However, 47 school districts in Texas pay Social Security taxes for all or for part of their employees, said Mike Lehr, association executive director. Because there are more than 1,000 school districts in Texas, that leaves a lot of teachers who will be hurt by the government pension offset, he said. ALSO THIS ARTICLE sent by Judy Green: Teachers: Benefits deserved Some who use loophole to add to pension put hopes in Congress 08/17/2002 By ALLEN PUSEY and KRISTINE HUGHES / The Dallas Morning News A government report citing Texas teachers for their efforts to gain Social Security benefits received mixed grades from Texas educators Friday. Some felt unfairly treated. Some were defiant. And some were simply ecstatic that federal lawmakers may reconsider the law that prohibits them from leaving public employment with the same Social Security benefits available to other retirees. On Wednesday, the General Accounting Office reported to Congress that nearly 4,800 teachers in Texas had used a loophole in federal law to qualify for Social Security spousal benefits – worth an estimated $450 million over their lifetime. But had it not been for that loophole, said Duane Lumbley, of Garland, his 72-year-old mother would have lost $267 she had been receiving each month since turning 65. They [the GAO] makes it sound like these people are criminals," Mr. Lumbley said. Mr. Lumbley said she had been informed of the provision and was told to spend her last day of work – a single day – at a public school that deducts Social Security. She spent the last day of her 25-year career filing paperwork at a junior college, which exempted her from the so-called Government Pension Offset. It allowed her to keep the benefits she had long ago qualified for. "I thought this was almost sounding bogus," Mr. Lumbley said, "but they said it's what you have to do to go along with the system." The provision, in effect, requalifies teacher retirees if their last day of state or local government employment is in a position that is covered by both Social Security and a government pension fund. Vernell Gregg of Lewisville was faced with a dramatic loss of income after her husband died in February. He had paid Social Security for more than 50 years, she said, but because she had been a teacher she could claim no part of his benefits once he died. "That's just not right," said Mrs. Gregg, adding that she is very happy the issue is receiving attention. George O. Reeve of Irving is in his third year of teaching after spending 30 years in business paying Social Security. "I feel that it is wrong to have paid into Social Security and not receive full benefits to which I should be rightfully entitled. I view my teaching as public service. If others like myself try to enrich students and prepare them for the business world, why should we be penalized?" Mr. Reeve said. The Government Pension Offset, or GPO, has been a bane to teachers and police and firefighters since it was established in 1977. The law makes it financially impossible for public employees to collect certain Social Security benefits – especially the spousal benefit – whether or not they've paid into the system. Aim of benefit The Social Security spousal benefit was intended to provide income to wives and husbands who have little or no Social Security benefits of their own. Those eligible are the spouses of retired, disabled or deceased workers covered by Social Security. The spousal benefit of a retired worker, generally speaking, is 50 percent of the working spouse's Social Security benefit. A widowed spouse gets 100 percent of the worker's check. If both spouses worked in positions covered by Social Security, each may not receive both the benefits earned as a worker and the full spousal benefit. Rather, each receives the higher amount of the two benefits. Before 1977, workers receiving pensions from government positions could receive their full pension benefit and a full Social Security spousal benefit, even if they had never paid Social Security taxes. Thus, the government worker could receive both benefits, while those covered by Social Security could receive only one. The offset law was enacted to equalize the situation. It prevents workers from receiving a full spousal benefit on top of a pension earned from noncovered government employment. It does so by "offsetting" – or reducing – the spousal benefit by two-thirds of the amount of the pension. The difference can be significant. A married, retiring worker receiving $1,700 per month from a private-sector pension could also qualify for Social Security equal to $850 – half his spouse's $1,700 Social Security benefit. A married teacher receiving $1,700 per month from a Texas teacher's pension (the actual average is $1,733) can receive the $850 spousal benefit. The law requires teachers to subtract two-thirds of their pension from the spousal benefit. Since two-thirds of $1,700 is more than $1,100, the teacher receives nothing at all. Thus, the private pensioner gets a total of $2,550 per month. The retired teacher gets $1,700 per month. "The effective result is that the retiring teacher can't take advantage of the same Social Security benefit as a person retiring in the private sector," said Jeri Stone, executive director of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. But for reasons that remain unclear, that same law provided an exemption from the offset law. No centralized data is kept on how many people use the offset exemption. But according to the GAO, more than a quarter of this year's retiring Texas public educators have used the "last day" loophole exception to gain extra benefits. Impact on Texas The federal provision impacts Texas more than some states because it is one of 15 states where some public employees, including teachers in many school districts, don't have Social Security taxes withheld from their paychecks. There are, however, 47 school districts in Texas that pay Social Security taxes for all or part of their employees. Not all of those districts participate in the "one day" employment plan. The GAO study found that by transferring for a single day to one of 31 Texas public schools – including several community colleges and at least one university – teachers have avoided the offset law and qualified for an extra $4,800 per year in benefits. At an average of 19.4 years of extended spousal benefits, nearly 4,800 teachers would receive an average of about $93,000 in extra pay, the study found. 'Abusive practice' As peeved as some Texas teachers may be about the report, the GAO stands by its assessment. Assistant Director Daniel Bertoni said opening up the unsteady Social Security system to a whole new class of unintended recipients would further jeopardize benefit funds. "We believe it's an abusive practice," Mr. Bertoni said. "The spousal benefit was intended for poor people, not for people who've paid little or nothing into the [Social Security] system." Many teachers say they have paid into the system in previous jobs. In fact, because of the traditionally modest pay afforded teachers, many say they've held jobs in addition to their teaching positions – jobs in the private sector that would have qualified them for Social Security funds. Angie Johnson, a veteran teacher in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch district, said she has done enough part-time work selling jewelry to qualify for Social Security benefits. When she retires, she'll have use the loophole to qualify for money she's already earned. "It's not much, but it's enough for a car payment," said Mrs. Johnson. "But unless I do this little trick, I won't be able to get what I've earned." While there is some bipartisan support for changing the law, it would be expensive – possibly costing $5 billion or more over 10 years, according to one congressional aide who spoke on condition of anonymity. It also comes at a time when the government is running a deficit and has huge new demands for security measures following last year's terrorist attacks. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has introduced legislation that would eliminate those provisions in the Social Security Act that create the situation. The bill has about 12 Senate cosponsors. Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., has introduced a companion bill in the House. There are at least five bills aiming to fix the situation, one way or another. "This is simply not right," Ms. Feinstein said in a statement. "Under current law, people who leave jobs in the private sector to become public school teachers ... or public school teachers who work second jobs during the summers months to help make ends meet are penalized for it," she added. "They ose legitimately earned Social Security benefits. In certain cases, their wives and husbands lose spousal benefits, too." Rep. E. Clay Shaw, R-Fla., has introduced legislation that would, at least, reduce the offset. "The apparently growing use of the loophole is only a symptom of general concern about whether the GPO itself is fair," Mr. Clay said. Allen Pusey reported from Washington and Kristine Hughes reported from Richardson. Staff writer Robert Dodge in Washington also contributed to this report.