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Big Brother's Catch 22Posted Sunday, November 16, 2008, at 7:45 PM
In 1961 Joseph Heller's novel, Catch 22, was published, putting a name to the illogical no-win situation which Yossarian, the main character, finds himself in as a WWII bomber pilot. The governmental rule is that all pilots must fly their mission, unless they're crazy, but if they refuse to fly their mission, that means that they're sane, so they have to fly the mission! Catch 22! The ridiculous irony is that even the catches are codified with numbers!
In the last couple of days I've been made aware of a Catch 22 that exists in our educational system. Just what we needed, right? Another glitch in the system. And this is a big one, because it involves (shhhh!) the IRS and the Social Security Administration. (Hereafter called the SSA.)
Yessiree, folks, this is Big Brother at his finest!
Let's see if I can explain this situation, as I understand it. If you know more than I do, please free to illuminate the issue. I won't be offended, I promise!
History of the issue:
It goes back to 1956, when the Public School Retirement System of Missouri (hereafter called PSRS) got permission (somehow) to have its members excluded from Social Security coverage, instead opting to run their own system. The result has been an excellent retirement system - unlike what's happened to Social Security. From what I can gather, the difference is that the legislators couldn't get their fingers into PSRS money, so - voila! - it's still there!
Okay, now things get complicated. Somewhere around 1980, Congress enacted the Windfall Elimination Provision. This was supposedly to keep retirees from "double-dipping" by collecting from both teacher retirement and social security. From what I've been told, this law applied in Missouri to teachers and railroad workers. Through this system, PSRS retirees who have to put their money into social security (because of working outside education part of the year)get back a reduced amount or none at all. Not all states do this. It would seem that the practice is peculiarly Missourian in nature. I've heard that two other states might do it.
Whew! I've been education since 1964, and I never knew any of this!!
But it gets even more complicated! Another law was passed in the 70's or 80's: It's called the Government Pension Offset. This sneaky provision kicks in when a teacher's husband or wife dies. If that spouse would have been entitled to Social Security benefits, the widow/widower cannot collect all his/her spouse's benefits. The formula goes like this: 1) Take 75% of your retirement income. 2) Subtract that amount from your spouse's benefit. 3) The remainder is yours.
What is the current issue?
The reason why all this is in the news right now is that the IRS did an audit of two Missouri school districts, reported to the SSA, and it changed its position on which Missouri public school employees are exempt from paying social security taxes.
In the past, all school district employees working in any capacity who possess a certificate issued by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and who worked at least 17 hours on a regular basis were excluded from social security coverage.
On Oct. 22, 2008, the State Social Security Administrator issued a memorandum and a new interpretation of rules regarding this practice. Under the new interpretation, the only PSRS members who are excluded from Social Security contributions are those working in the positions of "teacher, teacher-secretary, substitute teacher, supervisor, principal, supervising principal, superintendent or assistant superintendent, nurse or librarian." School districts have many certified educators, such as counselors and vocational teachers, who would now be required to pay into Social Security. Also covered under this ominous rule are the extra-duty teachers, such as coaches and those other dedicated educators who give up their after-school time to work with the kids on sports or clubs. All extra-duty stipends will be subject to social security taxes.
I hate to think that all those people are working all those years for nothing, but that may be the case.
So, this is the situation, as best as I can understand it, after several days of trying to sort through the details.
If you would like to check it out, here are some links. You might have to copy & paste them, I think. I'm trying to figure out how to do hyperlinks, but I don't think I've been successful. I'm also following the instructions on how to keep those addresses from automatically double-spacing, but so far they aren't cooperating!!
* If you want to write your Congressman about this issue, I've included addresses below. For a form letter you can use as a guide, see http://www.msta.org/files/regions/mstaps...
You can send a letter to:
Sen. Kit Bond
Sen. Claire McCaskill
Washington, D.C., 20510
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.