WASHINGTON -- For thousands of senior citizens who work, the check will be in the mail soon after legislation lifting the Social Security earnings limit becomes law, as expected this spring.
''We are working hard to ensure that Social Security beneficiaries who are affected by the new law will have money in their pockets quickly,'' Social Security Commissioner Kenneth Apfel said Friday.
The legislation, scheduled for final passage in the Republican-led House on Tuesday, will repeal a Depression-era law that would reduce Social Security payments by $1 for every $3 a beneficiary between the ages of 65 and 69 earns in wages over $17,000. President Clinton said he will sign the bill into law.
Because the repeal is retroactive to Jan. 1, about 415,000 working seniors or dependents will get refunds for the money already deducted this year from their Social Security checks -- a total of $1.4 billion or an average of $3,500 per person.
If Clinton signs the bill by mid-April, Apfel said the checks should be sent by early May and monthly benefits adjusted by June.
The repeal directly affects 800,000 Social Security recipients who are working this year and another 100,000 who haven't sought benefits because they have jobs. With the earnings test eliminated, Apfel said each of these people could receive an additional $6,700 in Social Security this year.
In addition, 7.5 million people between the ages of 62 and 70 who receive Medicare, Social Security or both will get notices from the Social Security Administration describing the new law and how it could affect them.
A spokesman for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, R-Texas, said Archer is ''glad the SSA is moving quickly to make seniors whole.''
Archer first introduced a bill to repeal the limit in 1970 and the concept has always had broad support, but until this year it was always used as a ''sweetener'' added to more controversial legislation that failed to pass. This year, Democrats and Republicans alike found the measure irresistible as both parties court the elderly vote for the November elections.
Employers facing a tight job market are also clamoring for more workers and there are many jobs in retail and services that are a perfect fit for people over age 65.
''The earnings test is counterproductive in an economy in which employers want and need the skills and talents of older workers,'' Apfel said. ''It is an outdated policy.''
The bill is H.R. 5.
On the Net:
Social Security Administration: http://www.ssa.gov
Ways and Means Committee: http://www.waysandmeans.house.gov
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