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My husband and I have a bone to pick with the government.  We’re retired teachers and as such, we’re being denied social security benefits we earned. 

In Missouri–as in fifteen other states–teachers do not pay into social security.  They have their own pension system, the Public School Retirement System.  But many teachers work extra jobs to supplement their teaching income.  Many others (about 25 percent) went into teaching as a second career after paying into social security for years or moved here after teaching in a state where teachers contribute to social security. 

Such people get some social security benefits but far from what they earned.  The amount varies widely, anywhere from one sixth of what they earned to one third.  Denying them their benefits is just flat wrong. 

It burns my buns to know that the FICA tax is not levied on income over $102,000.  That has to be part of the reason it is deemed fiscally imprudent to pay social security benefits to teachers who’ve earned them.  People earning over $102,000 aren’t paying their share, even though they can afford to.

Nor are teachers who paid into social security the only ones getting short shrift.  Retired teachers whose spouses paid into social security do not get the same benefits as other people when their spouses die or are disabled.

A teacher in Illinois explains the injustice:

I am a retired teacher after 40 years of service. I am currently drawing a teacher’s retirement in Illinois. When I become 65 I will be unable to draw anything on my husband’s Social Security, even though he has been disabled for 20 years and I have been the sole support of the family.

On the other hand, his cousin, who has never worked a day in her life, draws Social Security on her husband’s benefits. Is this fair? Of course not!

The Missouri NEA, along with the NEA from the fourteen other affected states, has petitioned Congress for action on the two statutes that mandate these inequities, and bills are now in committee, one in the House and one in the Senate, to redress these problems.

Although support for them is stronger among the Democrats, it is bipartisan.  In the Missouri House delegation, Jo Ann Emerson and Roy Blunt have joined three of the four Democrats (Ike Skelton opposes it).  Bond–no surprise–opposes it.  McCaskill not only supports it, she’s a co-sponsor and says, “It is my hope that Congress will move quickly to pass this important legislation into law.”

As to whether there’s any realistic chance of both chambers passing the bills, I don’t know, but even if they did, this plea for fairness would fall on deaf ears at the White House, you can be sure.  Bush may not even be aware that such legislation is being considered.  But I think I can safely predict that the man who vetoed health care for poor kids and who worked to deconstruct social security won’t suddenly show his empathetic side.

Still, the issue is at least percolating in Congress.  Maybe 2009 will produce some results.  Meantime, people like Kathleen Hutchins are watching:

My recently retired husband had to take out an expensive life insurance policy because he knew if anything happened to him, because I am a teacher, I would lose SS benefits that he has paid into all his life. My own SS benefits will be nearly non-existent. We only ask for what we have worked hard for all these years.