National Legislative Landscape
By Dick Dennis
The Washington Scene section of the January edition of The Retired Officer Magazine was devoted entirely to an article entitled "TROA's Legislative Goals for 2002". The 11 goals or issues listed under Health Care included TRICARE For Life and other medical care topics; the eight issues under the Retired Pay and Survivor heading included concurrent receipt and Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP); the 13 Active and Reserve Force issues discussed operations tempo, pay raises and voting etcetera; and finally, the five Additional Issues presented flag amendment and Social Security taxes, plus more.
This would be an ambitious legislative goals list in any year, but is especially so given the situation described in the TROA's e-mail legislative update for Friday, January 25, 2002. Our good friends at email@example.com noted in their Issue 1 that Congress returns to face a new landscape in 2002. The budget surpluses that were once projected out to never-never land, have been replaced with a deficit projection approaching $100 billion in fiscal year 2003 and no projection of a surplus until fiscal 2005 - or later?
The discussion of Issue 1 concludes with: "Finally, the wild card is that 2002 is an election year, when widely popular programs always seem to have a better chance of enactment. With 76% of senators and 86% of House members signed on as cosponsors of S. 170 and H.R. 303, our hope is that this will proved to be the case for the concurrent receipt initiative."
A significant measure of the popularity of an issue to a Senator or Representative is the number of relevant letters, e-mails and telephone calls received by BOTH the Washington and local offices. So join in, and help make our issues the most popular around.
Along this line, please give your serious consideration and support to the appeal presented in Carolyn Epling’s letter found in Your Views section of the January 2002 TROA Magazine, entitled Tired of Waiting for SBP (on page 15). Ms. Epling is concerned about the reduction in
SBP benefits at age 62, the so-called social security offset. She advocates writing to your Senators and Congressmen, and suggests that “military widows should ‘Storm the Hill.’” The following information regarding SBP was provided by TROA– National:
Issue: Unlike federal civilian annuities, the military Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) entails a sharp decrease in the annuity (from 55% to 35% of SBP-covered retired pay) for survivors age 62 and older.
Background: When SBP was enacted in 1972, Congress intended that the government would pay 40% of the cost -- to roughly parallel the subsidy for the Federal civilian SBP. Because of conservative actuarial assumptions, the government's cost share has declined to less than 27%. Retirees' premiums now cover 73% of expected long-term program costs, vs. the intended 60%. Even worse, the military SBP annuity drops sharply for survivors attaining age 62. Instead of providing 55 percent for life, the annuity drops as low as 35 percent for survivor’s age 62 or older. Many retirees and survivors weren't told of the age-62 reduction when they signed up for SBP in the 1970s, and are shocked to learn of it.
In contrast, the federal civilian SBP enjoys a 42% subsidy for employees under the 1984 Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). For those under the pre-1984 Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), the subsidy is 50%. Further, FERS survivors receive 50% of retired pay for life, and CSRS 55%, with no reduction at 62. Although Federal civilian premiums are 10% of retired pay compared to 6.5% for military retirees, military retirees pay SBP premiums for far longer than most civilians because they are required to leave service at a younger age.
Fully repealing the post-62 offset would cost about $560M per year. Having been stymied for years by the cost of full repeal, The Retired Officers Association and The Military Coalition supported legislation introduced in the 107th Congress to increase the minimum post-62 SBP annuity from 35% to 40% immediately, to 45% on Oct. 1, 2004 (FY2005) and then to 55% no later than Oct. 1, 2011.
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