By State Treasurer John Kennedy

Turn on any talk radio station or television news program today, and chances are you will catch a discussion about Social Security. In fact, both President Bush and U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow have recently visited our state to bring the Social Security debate directly to Louisiana citizens. One important thing that seems to be missing from these discussions,however, is a plan to restore certain benefits for government retirees and their spouses.

Our leaders in Washington, D.C., should bead dressing portions of the current Social Security law that impose large reductions to the already strained pension benefits of countless Louisiana citizens. A good start would be to repeal or reduce the impact of the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) of the Social Security Act. These two conditions in the law reduce Social Security benefits specifically for federal, state and local government employees.

The GPO lowers the amount of Social Security benefits that are paid to a government employee who has a spouse who works in the private sector. The GPO reduces the government employees dependent benefits by two-thirds of the amount of his or her own pension check. As a result, the Social Security benefit is often eliminated altogether.

The WEP reduces benefits for people who have spent most of their careers in government but who have also worked in the private sector. Social Security payments are lower even when individuals have worked in private industry long enough to qualify for Social Security retirement or disability payments.

Most Louisiana workers or their spouses have paid money into the Social Security System at one time or another. There are many public employees, however, who do not know about these Social Security provisions and do not plan ahead for lower benefits when they retire. Our seniors face skyrocketing prescription drug prices, medical bills and other expenses, but many are not prepared for reduced Social Security benefits.

Social Security benefit statements do not calculate the GPO or WEP, and many public employees are unaware that their benefits will be lower than anticipated or in some cases nonexistent upon retirement. I encourage public employees to use the online GPO and WEP calculators available at a better estimate of future Social Security benefits.

The Social Security debate is an important one, and it is likely to continue for some time. Our national leaders must come up with concrete solutions to the problem. Real Social Security reform must restore certain benefits for government retirees and their spouses and must ease the burden the system places on public employees. Any relief for Louisiana citizens is essential.