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Sat, Apr 15, 2000
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House Approves Bill Giving Seniors
The Chance to Work

By Pat Leisner   Associated Press
TAMPA, Fla. — It was welcome news to 68-year-old Harold Henderson — the thought of being able to work longer hours, earn more money and — best of all — keep it.

"I might go get me a real job now," said Henderson, who works as a janitor and bagger at a Winn-Dixie grocery store.

Henderson is among 800,000 Americans between the ages of 65 and 69 who are expected to benefit from the repeal of the Social Security earnings limit. Under the cap, a senior citizen is penalized $1 in benefits for every $3 earned over $17,000.

The House voted 422-0 Wednesday to send the Senate a bill doing away with the Depression-era law originally passed to make more jobs available for younger workers. Senate supporters promised prompt action.

President Clinton said he would sign the bill into law as long as it remains unencumbered by tax cuts or other changes he could not accept and that have doomed several past repeal efforts.

"We should reward every American who wants to and can stay active and productive," he said.

Henderson and his wife have seven children, two of them still at home. He's been working up to 20 hours a week, limiting the number of hours so his pay doesn't go over the $17,000 limit.

Henderson retired from long-haul trucking six years ago. He said the difference in his paycheck between then and now is about $500 per week.

"I might go back to driving a truck," he said. "I would pay off my house."

At a Winn-Dixie across the state in West Palm Beach, store co-owner David Deems said several of his employees over 65 also must limit their work hours to stay below the earnings limit.

Jack Bassett, 82, bags groceries and has no earnings cap because he is over age 70. But he remembers the earnings limit.

"I had to watch how much I made and when I got almost to the limit I would arrange with my employer to take a few months off," said Bassett, a former jeweler at Van Cleef and Arpels in Palm Beach.

Retailers, restaurants and other businesses are struggling with a labor shortage and Congress is searching for something to offer senior voters, especially with broader Medicare and Social Security reforms less likely to pass.

"Why in the world would we want to discourage any American, whether they're 17 or 67, from working?" asked Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. "Americans are living longer now, and older Americans can work, they want to work and they shouldn't be punished by an outdated law."

The bill would leave in place a separate Social Security earnings limit for people under age 65, which this year amounts to a reduction of $1 in benefits for every $2 in earnings above $10,080. There is no earnings limit for Social Security recipients over 70.

"This is a very important piece for our seniors," said Rep. E. Clay Shaw, R-Fla. "We're not wasting time."

J.R. Sanders, a 67-year-old maintenance worker at a McDonald's near Orlando, said he always hated that he was penalized if he earned too much. He doesn't need the money, but he believes it should be his to use as he pleases.

"The government didn't earn it, I did," he said.

Coworker Jon Morton, 66, said his situation is different.

"I have to work and I don't think the government has the right to tell me how much I can earn," he said. "I'm glad Congress has seen that."

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