Congress Places All Retirees At Risk
One Woman’s Opinion
By Sheri de Grom

DC Lots of PeopleCongress 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!

About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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  1. Deb says:

    When it comes to the government and their tactics I tend to get hot-headed about it, so rarely talk about it. What they’ve done…again, is…, well, best leave those word out, but I’m sure you get what I mean.

  2. Wow, now that’s the congressman to have. I’ve read your blog regarding learning Chinese. I still plan to return to leave a comment.

  3. jbw0123 says:

    You go Sheri! Forgive me slipping in a boast about our Congressman, Peter Defazio who has turned down $320,000 in pay raises. Best wishes and nice post —

  4. iamforchange says:

    Sheri, I have to say I love the post and your heart. Then I have to say nothing as I was taught as a child…. thank you for sharing!

  5. Penny L Howe says:

    I hear what you’re saying Sheri. What’s an even sadder truth is that the money isn’t really ‘there’ anywhere. We do owe our soul to the thriving economy of China and the huge amount of dollars they keep lending our country, while we consumer oriented Americans feed the growth and healthy economy of China by buying their products.

    Hmmm what’s wrong with this picture! Our consumerism habits and poor political decisions have done severe damage for all of our futures. As you know the original idea/concept for Social Security and Retirement Benefits has slowly eroding into sneaky behind the scenes maneuvering of the hard earned funds of those both retired and in the process of retiring. It won’t be getting any better either, Sheri. When we are trillions of dollars in debt, this isn’t going to be solved overnight, if at all. And the greed and avarice of those in office (for the last 30 years or more) is just furthering everything along in the wrong direction. And eventually even those in Congress will be forced to pay the piper, whether they wish to or not! Just my thoughts, dear friend, I tend to have rather strong ones on this subject, as do you!

    • Penny – You are so right. I always think about how we might not live in houses and buy our groceries and other items at the company store but it seems we are really doing that each time we purchase something made in China. This past weekend I ventured out in search of a few items to stretch my summer wardrobe and adament I would not buy a single item made outside of the USA. Yes, I came home with nothing. No surprise there.

      On a seperate note regarding Federal Employee Retirement Funds. Those monies are in a set-aside account and are not to be co-mingled in anyway with other federal monies (as spelled out by law). It requires an act of Congress to borrow from those funds. We see how well that’s working don’t we?

  6. Penny L Howe says:

    Sheri, you’re an amazing woman (way to go, to protect yourself re: your job) and our government has been in some serious internal and financial trouble for some time. Thank you for pointing out just a small glimpse of what is really going on in there!

    • Penny – Thank you for stopping by to read with me. I learned the hard way the Federal Government didn’t have my best interest at heart. I loved my work and gave it my all but Congress didn’t care. Now, Congress wants to take away the retirement of every citizen of the United States (bit by bit) by way of the Chained Consumer Price Index. How many of us can afford to have our retirements chipped away at each year. The dollars will be larger and larger and as we age, our health care cost will go up and our retirement income will be less. Congress doesn’t care that we might have other plans for our retirement such as the desire to travel, attend a writer’s conference, purchase additional novels to read, and on and on. Everyone has a wish list for retirement, even Congress. However, Congress didn’t include themselves in the newly defined reduced retirement plan.

  7. Sinful ! This is vengeful and ugly ! I can’t imagine the way they cover their behinds at the cost of too many!

  8. Fat cats getting fatter, at the sacrifice of the people they represent.

  9. Jane Sadek says:

    AMEN!! My dad’s career was with the VA and I’m grateful he arranged things so that my mom would continue to receive benefits after his death. Dad was an amazing guy in a tough job. Throughout his career he was barraged with offers which promised more lucrative salaries and easier workloads. He was never tempted. Even though most people doing his level of work were considered executives and enjoyed amazing perks, no one could touch his retirement benefits. It angers me when people talk of taking away benefits Dad worked so hard for and sacrificed so much to have.

    It also angers me to consider how well Congress pads it’s own seat. Serving in our government shouldn’t be so financially rewarding. Patriots of the past went broke serving their nation – and though I find that sad, it underlines their love for their country. Serving as president of the US shouldn’t set you up for life, nor should serving in the Congress. Certainly they should be paid, but it should be an honorarium, not a ticket to the good life. If “serving” in the legislation of our government was paid on par with serving in our Armed Forces, maybe our politicians would be more like our soldiers – and that would be a wonderful thing.

    • Jane, I hear you loud and clear. I stayed with DoD for the benefit of Health Insurance. Unlike the common misconception, federal employees do have to pay for health insurance, and the insurance converage I needed for my husband I couldn’t get anywhere else due to pre-existing conditions. When Fort Ord, CA closed I had head-hunters come calling and I could have trippled my salary and we could have stayed in the home we loved and not moved to DC. But, I needed that all important health insurance for Tom. So, instead of taking on those executive level positions in California, I avanced in my own career and moved to DC where I continued to work my 80 hours+ a week but we had excellent health coverage for Tom.
      Perhaps if our politicians were offered Tri Care for their insurance, the same as our soldiers families, they would have a keen understanding of what shape our health care is really like in this country. As long as we the tax payers continuing to allow them the cream of the crop in health care, they’ll never improve what the average citizen has for access.
      I’m convinced those who enter politics today do so for self-serving reasons and no other. It’s an easy way to earn high salaries with perks for life and every other citizen in the country is denied these same advantages unless they are independently wealthy.

      • Jane Sadek says:

        The divide between what Congressmen and Presidents think is good enough for the American people or good enough for the military and what they get themselves is far too wide. It’s a double standard we can no longer live with. You want to talk about the 1%? I think they all have offices in Washington D.C. You want to talk about what’s fair? Then you can’t discuss the compensation plan of our legislators. I wonder if there’s anymore of that processed cheese they used to give to welfare recipients. I think it’s time to hand it out at the Capitol.

  10. Reblogged this on Sandys Hopeful Room and commented:
    I am blogging this because I feel it is important enough to rad and understand. Both my husband and our daughter work(ed) for the federal gov. My husband for the now defunct Bureau of Mines and our daughter as a critical care nurse bin a VA Hosp.

  11. Sheri, I will reblog this myself because you have spoken what what I have felt for years. My husband worked his whole career with the Bureau of Mines. Our daughter has worked and continues to work as a nurse with a BSN degree for over 10 years now as a critical care nurse.

    We are very concerned about the terrible tun this country has taken.

    God Bless you and keep you.

  12. Excellent information!Thanks for taking time to write and inform.

  13. Damn, Sheri. I do understand all of this and much more. I’ve railed for over thirty years over decreases in education funds, unfair practices and the whole daisy chain. Like a good little baby boomer, I went on protests and thought I was doing my part.

    By the time the American public wakes up to what they have allowed to happen to their country, we will be a totalitarian military state with a puppet government. And although some might say I’m wrong. It started decades ago and became a raging fire when we allowed the establishment of a new cabinet … a new agency with less accountability than the CIA and that’s going some … Homeland Security. Sounds like 1984 doesn’t it?

    Hey, I am not truly a conspiracy theorist, but did anyone notice: One: we are getting out of the middle east and Korea flares up. Two: we have a democrat who was thought to make great strides in his second term and Oooops … scandal.

    Honesly, I tihnk Orwelian is an understatment to what we’ve become :):)

    • Florence – Don’t forget Africa also flares and the last commander we had there (a 3 star if I remember correctly) was brought home because he spent lavishly, used military personnel to escort his wife on shopping and sight-seeing trips, etc). He spent a year or so at the Pentagon while the former Secretary of the Army decided what punishment he should receive (while still receiving 3 Star Pay and a house on General’s Row). Oh the life of the rich and famous!

  14. Whoa! This is a lot of information to digest, Sheri, and a bit above my head but I understand the gist of the it and am duly appalled. Once again, you have given me facts and figures I wasn’t aware of and It’s above and beyond me to add anything noteworthy. I am horrified at these stats and numbers. The government is such a HUGE entity that what does one do? I thought we “do” something by voting for people to represent us but if they’re not doing their jobs (though getting raises anyway) what’s the average Joe citizen to do to make changes?

    • Hello Patti – I love the fact that you will weigh in on a subject and even admit you might not understand everything going on. No one can understand Congress or the President in these troubled times because nothing is done according to the law of the land. The premise is that all federal retirements will be less each year because they will be based on the Chained Consumer Price Index. Retirees will receive less, therefore they will spend less. Each year you have to spend less because you have less to spend. Therefore, the following year, you receive even less for your retirement entitlement and so on and so on.

      • Good god, Sheri, what type of “sense” does THAT make? So they receive even less for their retirement entitlement because they make less therefore they spend less therefore they need less. Hmmmm. Anyone say Catch 22?
        And these intelligent government persons whom we have elected into office think this is “logical”? Wow.

  15. george-b says:

    Reblogged this on euzicasa and commented:
    Troublesome indeed!

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