Q & A: January 2016

Q & A: January 2016

Q: My husband will be retiring from a large California city police department after more than 35 years of service and entitled to a pension with spousal benefits for me. He did not work long enough under Social Security for a benefit based on his own earnings. I worked for a large company and I’m entitled to Social Security. Would my husband be eligible for Social Security spousal benefits based on my work record?

A: Usually a spouse is entitled to a benefit that would be about half the Social Security benefit that the “primary insured worker” is entitled to receive. For example, if you were entitled to $1,200 per month at full retirement age, your husband would get a spousal benefit of $600. Widowers are also entitled to benefits based on their wife’s account. But in your case, the Social Security Government Pension Offset (GPO) complicates retirement planning.

The GPO affects public sector employees in 15 states that aren’t covered by Social Security. Your husband’s pension is based on a job that did not pay into Social Security. That includes the entire states of Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio and Texas, as well as several local governments in Georgia, Kentucky, and Rhode Island. Under the GPO, the Social Security Administration would reduce your husband’s spousal or widowers benefits because he receives that public sector pension.

Under the GPO, Social Security benefits of a spouse, widow, or widower are reduced by two-thirds of his government pension. The rule does NOT reduce your own Social Security benefit. Here are two examples of how it works:

  • Spousal benefits: For example, if your husband gets a civil service pension of $1,800, then two-thirds of that, or $1,200, must be deducted from his Social Security spousal benefit. If your Social Security benefit at full retirement age is $1,200 and his Social Security spousal benefit would be just $600, the offset would totally eliminate the spousal benefit.
  • Survivors benefits: Normally survivors are entitled to 100% of the benefit payable to the deceased spouse. But if you were receiving a benefit of $1,200 and your husband’s pension offset is $1,200, then that would again completely eliminate his widower’s benefit.

TSCL supports the Social Security Fairness Act, (H.R. 973) introduced by Representative Rodney Davis (IL-13) and (S.1651) introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (OH) that would repeal the GPO and the Windfall Elimination Provision.