Changes to Retirement to Pay for Hurricane Damage? Readers React

Readers responded to our poll on the issue of how to pay for the damage caused by hurricanes along the Gulf Coast and a proposal to change the formula for calculating federal retirement benefits.

Many federal employees have empathy for those who have suffered as a result of hurricane damage along the Gulf Coast but they react strongly to a proposal to have their retirement program altered to help pay for the damage.

In our survey taken late last week, readers gave their reactions. On the question of whether the federal government should pay for cleanup and restoration of hurricane-ravaged areas in the country, 68% of those readers responding said the federal government should pay some of the cost. 27% said this is a responsibility of the state and local governments and 2% said the federal government should pay all costs. 2% were undecided.

As to where the money to pay for clean-up and restoration if the federal government pays a substantial amount of the costs, 24% said that specific line items from agencies should be eliminated or cut back. 21% wanted to reduce the military costs going into the war on terrorism. 14% were in favor of a tax increase; 13% preferred across the board cuts for all agencies and 17% preferred all of the above. Another 8% did not like any of these options and 3% were undecided.

On the question of whether federal employee benefits, including retirement and health benefits, should be included in any review to offset clean-up and restoration costs, 96% of those voting said “no.” 2% said yes and 1% were undecided. (Some totals may not equal 100% due to rounding.)

In effect, most readers were in favor of the federal government paying at least part of the costs for restoring areas damaged by hurricanes but there is no clear-cut agreement on how to pay for it—other than a clear consensus that federal retirement or health benefits should not be cut or modified to help pay for the cost.

Some readers focused solely on the issue of the possibility of changing the formula for calculating retirement benefits while others focused on possible ways to pay for the recent damage caused by hurricanes.

Here are some of the typical comments from readers:

An information assistant from the Forest Service in South Lake Tahoe, CA wrote: “Federal employees should not have to suffer because of a natural disaster. It is absolutely appalling to think that federal retirees will have to take cuts in retirement earning, and end up working longer than they would have, when we are spending billions of dollars on the war in Iraq. We need to seek assistance from other countries for financial help in Iraq and leave our federal employees retirement alone!!”

A cartographer from the Geologic Survey in Reston, VA said: “One of the best places to reduce Government expenditures is to cut ‘pork.’ And there is no way in *ell that’s going to happen. Those idiots in Congress will almost certainly jam it to retirees.”

Several readers had this thought that was summarized by a NASA employee from Hampton, VA: “How about selling off some of the land defined as "undefined use" to raise all or part of the funds needed?”

A program analyst from DCMA in Alexandria, VA wrote: “Congressman Tancredo’s option to sell federal lands to pay for costs should be looked at favorably. This should be looked at to reduce overall federal debt limit.”

A number of readers wrote that restoration and clean-up is not a federal problem. This project manager from the Department of Defense in Pennsylvania commented: “Clean-up is the responsibility of the state not the federal government, except for ports that have a national impact on the economy. Restoration is the responsibility of the homeowner.”

An information specialist from the USDA in Colorado thinks too many people rely on the government for help: “Go back forty or fifty years when the government wasn’t trying to be all things to all people. When disaster hit, and they did, people took the initiative and helped themselves. They didn’t sit down and wait for the government, local to federal, to come in and do everything for them. We are creating robots instead of responsible adults willing to help themselves.“

A workforce planner from GSA in Washington, DC says we should borrow the money: “Katrina should be paid for with increased debt. A bedrock principle of this Administration is that deficits don’t matter. As Vice-President Cheney said: ‘Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.’ If there was ever a reason for deficit spending, it is to restore an area that is critically strategic to the US economy in terms of oil, natural gas, gasoline, petrochemicals, and access to international markets for US produced goods through the ports.”

An air traffic controller from Green Bay, Wisconsin thinks the taxes in the Gulf States are low enough so the people there can bear the cost of paying for the clean-up: “These states where these disasters are happening are some of the least taxed places. Maybe the states should tax there (sic) own citizens to pay for the disaster, rather than standing with their hand out for uncle sam to pay.”

An analyst from the Social Security Administration has this solution: “The city, state, and insurers have a responsibility in rebuilding a city that should be in the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe they should consider moving New Orleans to higher ground.”

A NASA employee from Cleveland has this solution: “Federal employees work and get paid less than their industry counter-parts. Cut some of the less critical spending like the arts and special projects.”

A human resources specialist from DoD who works overseas thinks a lot of people should chip in to pay for the damage: “No money for restoration should go to coastal areas prone to flooding or for beachfront repair– they should be declared no build zones. No money should go to rebuild rental properties for slum landlords who collected section 8 money in New Orleans. Current Feds and retirees shouldn’t be used as the sacrificial lamb when we have give-away programs like medicare prescription drug programs subsidizing senior citizens who are millionaires buying cheap drugs in Florida at their winter condos!”

An Air Force employee thinks NASA programs should be cut to pay for the damage: “I think they should forget spending $100+ billion on going to the moon again. When I signed on 32 years ago, I was told my retirement would be based on my high three years. It’s not fair to change that now.”

An engineer from the Department of Defense in Ogden, Utah has this insight: “Expecting the fed. govt. to bail everybody out of anything and everything proves that Rush Limbaugh is right: we’re dealing with a "culture of entitlement". It’s the socialist mentality that the state should take care of everything and everybody.” But the same reader also has this view about his benefits and how to limit income of others: “Rather than rob us of our hard-earned benefits, politicians on the Hill who want the fed. govt. to pay for the hurricane damage should cut all pork-barrel projects, discontinue paying tax refunds to people who paid no tax in the first place, apply Social Security tax to earnings higher than the current $90,000 a year limit, and no longer allow colonels and generals to receive their substantial retirement checks while working – without tax penalty – for the fed. Government.”

Some readers don’t think some of the areas should be restored. This manager from the Department of Defense in Ft. Worth, Texas opined: “New Orleans should not be rebuilt. It is below sea level. What is so hard to understand about such a vulnerability. How often must we rebuild? MOTHER NATURE WILL ALWAYS PREVAIL.”

A similar view was expressed by an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs from Hampton, VA: “Nobody’s tax dollars should pay to rebuild a city stupidly built below sea level; nor for ‘beach’ homes. My hard earned money should not be paying for people to make stupid decisions about living on waterfront property.”

And this opinion is from an HR assistant in the VA in Columbus, OH: “Those people who CHOOSE to stay and are now destitute are on their own. They CHOOSE to stay so they should not be looking for handouts. They also CHOOSE to live on the coast so they knew the consequences of their actions. Nobody forced them to live there.”

And, one comment that was unique came from a hazardous waste disposer at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard: The federal government should be responsible for helping out the people, after all we are all one nation under God.”

Thanks to all readers to took the time to vote in our poll and to the hundreds who also took the time to send in their opinion.