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Statement of Margaret Kane

November 06, 2007

Senator Kerry, Senator Ensign and Members of the Subcommittee:

On behalf of the Massachusetts Teachers Association's more than 107,000 members, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision: Policies Affecting Pensions from Work Not Covered by Social Security, which unfairly penalize educators and other public employees.

My name is Margaret Kane. I am retired after teaching English for 35 years at Medford High School in Medford, Massachusetts.

As you know, the Government Pension Offset reduces the Social Security benefits paid to a spouse or survivor by two-thirds of the individual's public pension. Thus, a teacher in Massachusetts who receives a public pension for a job not covered by Social Security will lose much or all of any spousal survivor benefits she would expect to collect based on her husband's private-sector earnings.

I know all too well what the impact of the Government Pension Offset means to a surviving spouse.

My husband, Dennis, joined the Navy at a young age and served for four years before we were married. After leaving the Navy, Dennis got a job at General Electric as a machinist. He worked there for 26 years.

I began my job as a public school teacher immediately after graduating from college. My husband and I worked very hard to raise our son and two daughters. Like other young couples, we thought we would watch our children grow into adulthood and perhaps start families of their own. We could never have imagined what a serious illness would do to our family.

In 1996, Dennis was diagnosed with terminal cancer. While this disease progressed, he continued to gather all of his strength to try to work for as long as he could.

Dennis died on December 23, 1998, at age 53. Two days prior to his death, Dennis asked me how long I thought he would live. I knew that he did not have much time left. One of the last things that Dennis told me was that he would be able to rest in peace, knowing that I would have his Social Security benefits to supplement my pension when I retired.

Dennis contributed to Social Security for more than 30 years. These contributions were taken from our family income, and Dennis and I both thought that full Social Security benefits would be available to us. Fortunately, Dennis never knew that I would not be able to collect one penny of his Social Security benefits as his spouse.

I am one of many women whose retirement years have been affected negatively by the Government Pension Offset. My colleague at Medford High School, Josephine Parella, tragically lost her husband, Carmine. Carmine had been an officer in the Air Force for sixteen years when he died in 1970 while returning to Vietnam. He had spent his career serving his country. Josephine was left to raise their four children, ranging in age from three months to 10 years old. When the youngest entered school, Josephine returned to work as an adjustment counselor. In 2002, after 26 years in public education, she retired and was unable to receive any survivor benefits from her Vietnam veteran husband.

My colleagues in Massachusetts are also affected by the Windfall Elimination Provision, which reduces the earned Social Security benefits of an individual who also receives a public pension from a job not covered by Social Security.

Joan Piacquadio, a registered nurse, worked for 25 years as a school nurse in western Massachusetts. Both the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision make her retirement years less secure than they should be.

Joan retired in 1998 at 64 to care for her seriously ill husband. Because of her public pension, Joan was able to receive only half of her own Social Security benefits. After her Medicare payment and the Windfall Elimination Provision, Joan's Social Security benefit was $140 per month. Joan's husband died in 2000, and Joan was notified that she would be unable to collect the $869 in survivor benefits from her husband's Social Security because of the Government Pension Offset.

Joan returned to work for nearly seven years, but recently had to stop working because of a triple bypass operation. At 73 years of age, Joan is able to remain in her home only because her children have taken over the responsibility of maintaining her house.

On behalf of all Massachusetts Teachers Association members, I urge the committee and Congress to enact S. 206. Please do not continue to penalize those of us who have dedicated our lives to public service and to educating public school students.