Social Security Rip-off: Take Two

Mark Sobel, a rabbi in Burbank, pays part of his salary into Social Security, but he believes he won’t see a penny of it when he retires.

“I would like to earn back what I put it which I think is the American way,” Sobel told NBC4.

Brad Jackson worked for Ralph’s grocery stores for 25 years and paid part of his salary into Social Security. Now he, too, believes he and his family will be denied that revenue.

“My children couldn’t benefit from it there’re no survivor benefits,” Jackson says.

Rabbi Sobel doubled as a history instructor in Sherman Oaks. Jackson quit Ralph’s to become a computer science teacher at the same high school.

And under a long-standing federal law, teachers in 14 states, including California, who’ve opted for state pensions, face a loss of Social Security benefits even if they’ve paid for them while working in non-teaching jobs.

Police officers, firefighters and other civil servants in virtually every state are similarly handicapped.

Representative Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) http://www.house.gov/berman/ told NBC4, it makes no sense. He is one of several lawmakers now working to change the law to keep it from denying teachers and other public pensioners the Social Security they’ve earned from outside employment.

“It discourages getting mid-career people to come into teaching,” he says. United Teachers-Los Angeles, the L.A. teachers’ union, has jumped on Berman’s bandwagon, and Rabbi Sobel says it was the union that convinced him that “anyone who worked before retirement and becomes a teacher they lose all those benefits. All Social Security benefits are gone.”

But is the teachers’ union telling it straight? Or simply trying to scare up support for a change in the law? The Social Security Administration wouldn’t comment when we first asked them. Now, they’ve offered to try to damp down teachers’ fears.

Mariana Gitomer of the Social Security Administration office in Los Angeles says teachers just need to know how this works. She acknowledges that teachers and others with public pensions cannot, in principal, double dip into Social Security, even if they’ve paid into it while doing outside work. But, she says, the reduction in their benefits never hits rock bottom.

“The more years they’ve worked under Social Security the less the reduction. It cannot be more than half of what they are getting from their pension,” she told NBC4.

In fact, she says, any teacher who worked thirty years in a private job and paid into Social Security gets full Social Security benefits upon retirement –plus his teacher’s pension.

“Now, if he worked less than 30 years yes, there is going to be a reduction,” she adds.

Figuring out that reduction is a brain twister because as Gitomer says, “each person is different.”
Even so, Gitomer says, the most any retired teacher will forfeit of his privately earned Social Security is $372 a month.

As for survivor and spousal benefits, she says they’re determined by subtracting a percentage of the teacher’s public pension from the usual Social Security entitlements. To figure out what you’re due, plug your earnings and public pension into this calculator on the Social Security website.

Gitomer says the average this year is $229 per month. To some teachers, of course, any reduction in their Social Security seems unfair.

“It’s my money,” says Rabbi Sobel, “ I want my money, this stuff I paid. I teach inclusion. I want to be included like everybody else.”

California Senator Dianne Feinstein has joined Congressman Berman in his crusade to change the law. But Berman says the fix could cost $80 to $85 billion over ten years –not exactly an invitation to a quick fix.

For more information on the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision, go to the Social Security Administration website.

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