Congress Places All Retirees At Risk
One Woman’s Opinion
By Sheri de Grom
Congress gave themselves a pay raise yet they haven’t received a satisfactory rating from their employers—the people of the United States in years. Other members of Congress became so discouraged with their inability to accomplish anything in Washington, they gave up and went home.
Meanwhile, Federal employees are watching what’s happening to their retirement plans while having their pay frozen since the beginning of 2011.
Congress has politicized federal pay freezes and other penalties for federal employees have been enacted. Do your representatives enjoy giving themselves a pay raise every year while cutting federal employee pay and benefits?
Federal employees and retirees (one of which would be me) have contributed fifteen million dollars from our savings over the past ten years through an increased pension contribution. These monies have been taken from a protected account by Congress the same as a Ponzi scheme. A two-year (2011 & 2012) pay freeze produced an additional sixty billion in savings. Now, a 2013 pay freeze will yield an additional twenty-eight billion in cuts to one group of middle-class workers.
Imagine my shock when I learned federal employees’ pay and my retirement benefits have been proposed to offset a number of pieces of legislation, including highway funding, a payroll tax holiday extension and student loan reductions.
Combine the three-year pay freeze for federal employees with the constant threat of a government shut-down, hiring freezes that require remaining staff members to do more with less and those employees that can, will retire. The national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, J. David Cox, calls this a punishment in search of a crime.
I retired in 1999 under these very circumstances. I loved my work but when I read in the Washington Post that Veterans Affairs would be the only federal agency allowing full retirement benefits with twenty years service in 1999, it more than caught my attention.
My department, headquartered in Washington, DC, had been gutted from two-hundred-seventy-six staff members to fifty-four. My department case load, however, continued to rise. During the period when I was staffed at two-hundred-seventy-six, I was actively recruiting fifty additional senior investigators. I had almost one-hundred active-duty military working for me and they became mission essential and were deployed to Panama.
Then, in one day, Congress rescinded all funding and froze all hiring procedures for the remainder of the fiscal years. We had ten months before a new operational budget would be approved.
When congress froze funding across the board, I was responsible for over ten-thousand active investigations. As my staff dwindled, the case numbers exploded. Federal crime doesn’t stop just because Congress takes away funding.
With the Washington Post in hand, I departed my office on time that night. The first time ever in over fifteen years. It was still daylight!
I told my husband I didn’t care where we moved or what I had to do, I had eighteen months before reaching twenty years and I could no longer work under the conditions I faced every day. My performance expectations hadn’t changed just because I no longer had the staff to meet the goals required.
We began the search for a Veterans hospital that might have use of my skills. I’d always worked for the Department of Defense but I would be retiring from the VA.
I was successful in my search and I retired at fifty-four with a full government retirement. Yes, it took some fancy footwork and fast talking on my part but I pulled it off.
I insert my personal story here to encourage other federal employees who might read this blog. With sacrifice, they too can accomplish the same goal, should they so desire.
Congress is now after all federal retirements: military, social security, the disabled and federal employees. The proposed resolution is being called unconscionable and will create far more harm for federal employees and other middle-class families than almost any other of the despised proposals from Rep. Paul Ryan’s House budget. Furthermore, the reduction of these incomes will have a negative impact on every household in America.
The new measure of inflation based on the “Consumer Price Index” (CPI) is proposed to be the basis for all federal retirement programs (except Congress).
Proponents of the program contend that if the prices of oranges go up and retirees and other beneficiaries have less money, we’ll perhaps eat apples or some other less expensive food.
But what if folks like oranges? And what about the orange grower who no longer has anyone except the one-percent to purchase his crop?
The CPI way of thinking will further erode our economy. With less money, people buy less. Buying less equates to fewer jobs. Does no one in Congress understand that our nation’s survival depends upon the middle-class citizen?
Agencies across the United States are hurting because Congress continues to make it impossible to perform the mission federal employees were hired to do. Therefore, why not move into retirement as soon as one’s eligible? The timing has never been more attractive.
More than ten thousand federal employees retired in March, 2013, more than twice the number expected.
Some experts believe the continuing increases in monthly retirement figures shows the government is experiencing a troubling retirement wave. So far, 52,744 employees have retired in 2013. That is almost fifty-one percent more than in the first quarter of 2012.
President Obama has caved to the demands of the Republicans and he’s sacrificed the retirement plans of those he promised he’d never touch. From the top of his new budget proposal is thirty-five billion he’s taking from retired federal employees.
The chained consumer price index President Obama is now supporting along with the Republican House will mean a few hundred dollars less per year for every retiree. The effect will compound over the years until, eventually, some retirees would likely earn tens of thousands of dollars less than they would under the current method of setting the cost of living index each year.
Every retiree equates to all Social Security recipients, military retirees, social security disability retirements, and all other federal retirements (except Congress, of course).
If we receive hundreds and then thousands of dollars less each year, will we eventually be obligated to pay, not only income taxes, but a retirement tax to the government if we want to retire? Perhaps the United States will eventually pile on a luxury tax to those wishing to retire!