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‘Dear Abby’ and Senior Citizens Seek End To Social Security Inequities

September 11, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Columnist Abigail Van Buren is appealing to Congress not for advice, but to urge it to change the Social Security formula that has resulted in lower benefits for people born between 1917 and 1921.

But with legislation to make such a change stalled in a House committee, she could well sign her plea ″Frustrated In Washington.″

″Dear Abby,″ as she is known to readers of her syndicated advice column, joined senior citizens in a rally on the Capitol steps Wednesday to protest differences in retirement benefits among people in similar circumstances. She was born on July 4, 1918.

A brother and sister from Wallingford, Pa., told reporters before the rally that although they paid almost identical amounts into the Social Security system while running a clothing store, his monthly check is 44 percent less than hers.

Because he opted for early retirement at age 62, Sidney Ulan said he anticipated his benefits would be less than those of his sister, Gertrude Warwick - but not 44 percent less. He was born in 1920, and his sister in 1915.

″I went in expecting to get 20 percent less, and I was shocked when I saw the amount,″ Ulan said. ″Nobody had explained it to me.″

Ms. Van Buren said she became involved after receiving a letter from a so- called ″notch-year″ baby in 1983. Believing the system needed to be changed, she urged readers to write their elected officials.

She said one congressman, whom she would not identify, told her to ″stick with advising the lovelorn and stay out of politics.″

The ″notch″ is what the recipients use to describe the benefits gap.

The disparity arose from a reduction in the basic retirement benefit and other changes in the Social Security formula enacted by Congress in 1977. The changes came during a five-year phase-in period and first took effect for people becoming eligible for benefits at age 62 in 1979 - those born in 1917.

The government also decided then not to credit the earnings of workers after they turn 61. After 1980, the benefits of people who worked until they were 65 or older became based on their earnings at age 61.

In addition, people who retired before 1979 received higher cost-of-living adjustments because they retired during periods of high inflation.

Those factors combined to result in lower benefits for more than 6 million ″notch-year″ recipients. People born after 1921 also will have lower benefits than older retirees, but the reduction won’t be as severe.

House legislation to change the system at a cost of more than $80 billion over five years has not moved out of the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee, whose leaders want to keep spending down.

Principal sponsor Edward R. Roybal, D-Calif., is seeking 218 House members’ signatures on a discharge resolution to force House action.

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