What Can Be Done to Address Social Security Cuts Experienced by Teachers?
Q: A friend of mine who retired after 30 years of teaching recently learned that she will not be getting a Social Security widow’s benefit based on her husband’s work in a private sector job. Because she gets her own pension from her teaching, she was told that it cancelled out her Social Security widow’s benefit. Can this be right? My sister receives spouse benefits based on her husband’s Social Security account even though she gets a pension from employment in a large company. Is there any legislation that would correct this issue?
A: Unfortunately for your friend, her own pension may be high enough to completely cancel out her Social Security widow’s benefit. Teachers, fireman, police officers and others who receive a civil service pension can discover that Social Security cuts their spouse or survivors benefits by thousands of dollars. This can occur even though their spouse paid the required minimum into Social Security from payroll taxes and even though the same rule does not apply when someone receives a private pension.
Called the Government Pension Offset (GPO), Social Security can reduce spouses or widow(er)s benefits by two-thirds of the affected individual’s government pension. For example, if an individual has a $2,900 per month pension from teaching, and she’s entitled to a Social Security widow’s benefit of $1,900, Social Security will reduce her Social Security spouse or widow’s benefit by $1,933 (two thirds of $2,900). That would completely eliminate her Social Security benefit. This occurs even though her spouse paid into Social Security and she was otherwise entitled to a benefit. This law was part of the Social Security reforms of 1983.
As bad as this sounds, there’s a similar law, the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), that affects people who receive a government pension. The WEP affects those who worked different jobs, one covered by the civil service pension, and others where the individual paid into Social Security for at least long enough to be eligible for benefits (10 years). Although the government pension and the eligibility for Social Security benefits were earned separately, the government pension is used to reduce the amount of Social Security that the individual receives in retirement.
TSCL strongly supports legislation, H.R. 141, introduced by Representative Rodney Davis (IL-13), that would repeal the GPO and WEP.
You can find more information, and fact sheets about the GPO and WEP on the Social Security website here: https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/gpo-wep.html.