April 27, 2016

Last Day to Comment on the DA Platform!

The Dems Abroad Platform is an impressive document. In addition to issues of wide interest – US domestic and foreign policy – it addresses those of material consequence to those of us living outside the US.

On the down side, three obstacles stand in the way of its full passage.

    1. Our platform is melded into the Democratic Party Platform at the Convention and may or may not survive intact. Some planks may be amended or dropped altogether.

    2. The passage of any particular plank into law requires ongoing commitment from our elected officials plus energetic, unrelenting advocacy by DA, often in coalition with stateside interest groups.

    3. To accomplish points 1 and 2, we have to know what the Platform contains and how we will benefit from its passage. This raises the question: Do our members know the Platform? Do most of our ExComs and Chapter leaders know it?

As one example, below is an account one member sent along regarding a ‘glitch’ in Social Security rules for Americans living abroad. When we checked, we learned there is a plank in the Platform, fairly consistent since 2012 at least, that covers this discrepancy. Who knew?

The 2016 draft paragraphs in the Social Security, Medicare and Healthcare plank:

FAVOR replacing the much harsher Foreign Work Test, applicable to Americans abroad, with the Annual Earnings Test, so that all Americans are subjected to the same rules regardless of residence.

FAVOR examination of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) to establish a remedy that preserves the social security benefits fairly earned by Americans abroad through their working life.

FAVOR elimination of the provision that now cuts off Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI) for persons who live outside the United States for more than 30 consecutive days.

FAVOR elimination of the withholding tax on Social Security for Americans abroad.

FAVOR negotiation and implementation of totalization agreements with all countries that have social security programs and which no such agreement is in place.

Does this cover what we need? We can comment on it till 5 p.m. EDT (Washington DC time) Wednesday, 27 April. That’s today, midnight in Greece.

To read the entire proposed Platform, go here:

For the personal account of how the Foreign Work Test rule impacts an eligible pensioner living abroad, read on.

Foreign Work Test aka “If you win some, you lose some!”

In 2012, I was entitled to apply for a reduced pension from Greece, the country I have resided in for some years, having married a Greek national and raised children here. A few months before, my husband died, leaving me with debts, amongst other problems one faces with the loss of a partner, and no prospect of a widow's pension. I was told that receiving a US pension meant that it would be calculated on totalization (the collaboration between the two countries) because I needed a few more credits to supplement the required amount and they would be taken from my Greek working credits. That also meant that the final pension would be smaller than expected. The amount I am entitled to is about 155 euros a month (at the time it was $178).

Before I applied, I had to make an important decision based on a law that seemed unfair. I was in a quandary because I needed an income, and this law would restrict me from finding the work I needed to do to support myself and my son. If I postponed receiving this pension until I turned 66 when it wouldn't matter if I worked, I might not actually find work in today’s Greece which has been undergoing tremendous financial austerity and stress for several years now. People have suffered more than anyone who does not live here would ever know. It's the average person, the lower income person that gets hit the hardest. Pensions, salaries, wages have been cut and the average person cannot easily find work. Many businesses have closed. This is the climate I have been living in.

The US law in question states that until a person living outside the US turns 66 they are not permitted to work over 45 hours a month. The reason supposedly is that currencies of each country are different. If they do work over, they have to pay the price: for any month that they go over 45 hours they will be penalized by having to pay the benefits back. If they consistently work over 45 hours a month their benefits will be suspended until they are 66. The clincher is that Americans living in the US and receiving a reduced pension are allowed to receive an aggregate of $14,000 a year before benefits are reduced.

Now at the present time in Greece basic wages are pretty low. People are even working for 2 euros an hour. An average pay, if they are lucky may be 20 euros a day. Everyone has had a cut in pay. Those of us in foreign language education are lucky to be paid 10 euros an hour, which isn't really the case anymore. This law means we could only work about 11 hours a week. That would add up to 45 hours x 10 euros (if we were lucky) which amounts to 450 euros a month....x 12 months = 5,400 euros a year. One can easily see there’s a discrepancy between $5,400 and $14,000 a year (12,000 euros). An amount of 750 euros a month (9000 euros a year) used to be an average salary in Greece but, unfortunately, in many cases that has gone down to 500 a month or less. Even in better times, most foreigners living in Greece would not have made 12,000 euros a year.

So the dilemma when I applied was whether I should accept the small, but stable amount coming in every month, supplementing it with various reported, non-permanent incomes, not to succeed 45 hours a month (it didn't matter if I was making 500 euros an hour, it just can't surpass the monthly hour limit) or to forgo the pension at that time and try to find more financially rewarding work, which is quite difficult and uncertain now, particularly because of my age. It is a very discouraging situation for foreigners living in Greece. At least the $150 pension was a constant and there was the hope that something else would come in.

There is seasonal work I do twice a year; the hours are never the same and it only lasts a month each time. I depend on this money. With the 45-hour limit, this income will be penalized. 

I was sent an initial report to fill out to see if I work 45 hours or less. I reported that I did and explained the situation. I failed to send the second, more in depth report they asked for, due to waiting for supplementary information from the seasonal employer, and also delayed it due to some serious circumstances in my environment. Just as I was writing to SSA, they informed me that my benefits would be cut because “you are working over 45 hours a week.” This, of course, is not the case. I have time to appeal, which I most certainly will do.

However, at this time I am writing to Democrats Abroad to inform them that this is a law, seriously unjust for all Americans living abroad and one that should be changed. Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.

~ Name withheld by request