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A Double Jolt on Pension Benefits

Some teachers and other government workers find themselves penalized by two provisions of Social Security.

October 02, 2006|Arin Gencer | Special to The Times

Momentum behind the movement to remove the provisions has steadily increased in the last few years, as has advocates' sense of urgency. In 2005, Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) introduced legislation calling for their repeal, while Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pushed a similar proposal in the Senate. About 350 representatives and senators have signed on as co-sponsors for the respective bills. This year, the state Assembly and Senate passed a joint resolution advocating such a law. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also has thrown in his support.

Lobbyists and legislators suspect the price tag has something to do with the lack of movement. Their estimates put the cost of giving full benefits to all those affected at more than $60 billion over a decade. The Social Security Administration would save about $5 billion from benefit cuts in 2006, according to an estimate from its actuary office.

Still, the governor and teachers' groups have expressed concerns about the state's teacher shortage and the general need for more qualified math and science instructors, who sometimes come out of the private sector.

Bill Lambert, director of governmental relations for United Teachers Los Angeles, points to teachers such as Margaret Cagle, who has taught algebra and geometry at Chatsworth's Lawrence Middle School for 12 years, as the kind of employee schools could miss.

In May, Cagle was honored with a 2005 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She also spent 15 years working as an architect -- and paying into Social Security -- before her move into teaching.

"When I switched careers, I had no idea. I was utterly ignorant," Cagle said, referring to the benefit cuts she will face when she retires. But "at 38, you're not thinking about 'when I quit.... ' "

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