On September 6, 2018, the Senate passed The Tribal Social Security Fairness Act of 2018, which is expected to be signed into law by the President in the coming days. The bipartisan bill – co-sponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and John Thune (R-SD) and recently passed in the House – allows tribal council members the option of paying into and receiving Social Security benefits based on their government service. NAFOA has long advocated for such a change and we are grateful to the champions within Congress for supporting Indian Country.
"I have worked on this issue for a number of years because it is important to encourage our youth to serve our communities and we should do that by eliminating barriers to service. No one should be punished by the federal government for serving their community," Muckleshoot Tribal Council Chair Virginia Cross said. "The Tribal Social Security Fairness Act helps to remove barriers to tribal service for our young leaders."
“Tribal council members in Washington state and throughout the country have dedicated their lives to service and improving their communities,” Senator Cantwell said. “They deserve the same access to Social Security that all other Americans have. I thank my colleagues for working with me to fix this injustice, and I will continue working to achieve retirement security for everyone in Indian Country.”
Generally, employees pay a percentage of their income through payroll taxes to fund the Social Security program and, in doing so, earn what are known as “credits.” When that employee retires, he or she begins collecting Social Security benefits based on credits earned. However, tribal council members are not allowed to pay into the Social Security program and receive benefits based on their service, which differs from how state and local government legislators are treated under current law.
The Tribal Social Security Fairness Act, which also passed the House by unanimous consent in late-July, corrects this by allowing tribal governments to "opt-in" to agreements extending Social Security coverage to their councilmembers. “With this bill, leaders across Indian Country will have long overdue parity with other governmental leaders," stated Tina Danforth, NAFOA President. "Elected tribal leaders will now be able to 'opt-in' to the Social Security program, which many Americans rely on for a safety net,” she continued.
In addition to the "opt-in" provision, the bill allows tribal council members to receive Social Security credit for taxes paid prior to the establishment of the agreement, if the taxes were paid timely and in good faith, and were not refunded.
If you have any questions or comments, please contact Ryan Ward at (202) 594-6593 or Ryan@Nafoa.org.