Posted In: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Educator Voices, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Retired Educators, Rhode Island, Texas

Educators fight unfair offsets that gouge retirement benefits

Tags: , , , , ,

By Brian Washington/photos by 401K 2013

Imagine this. You’ve spent the last 30-years dedicating your life to teaching students Algebra at a local high school. And during those decades in the classroom, to help make ends meet, you’ve worked several part-time jobs—including a 15-year stint as a night auditor at a local hotel. But now, you’re looking forward to retirement—that is, until you learn about a government offset called the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which is going to reduce your Social Security check by almost half.

Take Action ›

Send an email to your representative urging them to support and cosponsor the Social Security Fairness Act of 2013. CLICK HERE. ›

While it sounds like a retirement nightmare, for hundreds of thousands of educators, police officers, fire fighters and other public service employees, it’s a reality. WEP penalizes people who have dedicated their lives to serving their communities by taking away benefits they have earned. It impacts public employees who work in what’s called, “non-Social Security states”—states where Social Security is not withheld from public sector employees. However, if these employees are eligible to collect a benefit as a result of private sector jobs they may have held, WEP robs them of a significant portion of their Social Security checks.

retirementFor example, if the retired teacher mentioned earlier–the one who worked part-time as a hotel night auditor–was eligible for a monthly Social Security benefit of $415 and received $1423 from her monthly teaching pension, under the WEP formula, her Social Security benefit would be reduced to $206. For those on a fixed income, that loss of $209 really hurts.

“I think I should be able to collect what I am due,” said Nancy Allen, a 62-year-old teacher from Alaska—a non-Social Security state—who retired four years ago and is eligible to collect Social Security based on several private sector jobs she held during college and after leaving the classroom.

I am not going to ever receive a large amount of Social Security because I didn’t put large amounts into the plan. But I did put money into the plan, I am eligible, and should be able to receive all that I am due.

The good news is that one of Allen’s U.S. Senators, Mark Begich (D-AK), is expected to introduce legislation later this week to repeal WEP. A similar bill–sponsored by Reps. Rodney Alexander (R-IL) and Adam Schiff (D-CA)–has already been introduced in the House. Both House and Senate versions will also target another offset that’s penalizing public employees in non-social security states. It’s called the Government Pension Offset, or GPO.

U.S. Senator Mark Begich, D-Alaska

U.S. Senator Mark Begich, D-Alaska

Because of GPO, 9 out of 10 public employees lose their entire Social Security survivor’s benefit, even though their late spouse may have paid Social Security taxes for years. In fact, some 300,000 people lose, on average, about $3,600 a year due to GPO—that’s an amount that can make the difference between self-sufficiency and poverty for those loved ones left behind.

“If you have a spouse and you’re Social Security is based on their benefit because they are deceased and you lose that benefit—that could really have a serious negative impact on people,” said Allen, who fears good educators and retired private sector employees looking at public education as a second career will steer clear of those states impacted by GPO/WEP. “I think the Social Security formula should be the same for everyone, and there shouldn’t be 15 states that are affected by this.”

But unfortunately, this problem is not just limited to the 15 non-Social Security states—Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Texas. Because people move from state to state, there are people impacted by GPO/WEP who live everywhere within the country, and that number continues to grow as more reach retirement age. However, thanks to federal lawmakers like Senator Begich and others, Allen sees a ray of hope extending from Capitol Hill.

“I feel good about what Senator Begich is doing,” said Allen. “Not everyone is willing to introduce a bill like this and I am very proud that Mark Begich feels he can do that.”

Send an email to your representative urging them to support and cosponsor the Social Security Fairness Act of 2013.

Reader Comments

  1. Mary Huckstep

    Reality: The government is the 1,000 pound gorilla that can sleep anywhere in the jungle it wants to. And it does not matter one whit what we think about them or what we say to them. That will not get the government’s attention. They could care less.

    What really matters is what we DO. WHAT WE DO is the only thing that matters. If someone were to file a class-action lawsuit against the SS department, demanding that they pay us back the money they have stolen from us in the past, and that they give us our full pensions in the future, then that would get their attention.

    You don’t send a letter of complaint to a white collar robber. No. You file a lawsuit and then prepare for a long, drawn-out fight. With any luck, those of us who are still in our 60s might see that money before we die!

    Reply
  2. Bette

    I can’t believe that anyone would give any of these comments a thumbs down! I am a retired public employee from California, now living in Florida. I worked primarily in restaurants while going to school and raising 3 children by myself. I remarried and worked 5 more years in a bank before my husband and I both started working for a sewer district that had voted to no longer pay into ss years before when they joined Calpers. At the time there was no windfall or offset. My husband died at 51 from Lou Gehrig disease . He paid in for 25 years before beaming a public servant. I remarried a few years later to a Ca state worker and they do pay into social security. Now I retire this month and find out I get 206 a month from social security. Even though my husbands both paid in for years and my own would have been 600! What a scam! I receive 2000 from Calpers before taxes. Hardly a frigging “windfall”!

    Reply
  3. Donna Luiz

    Iam a teacher who did not teach for very long due to a back condition; I am not receiving a lot for my retirement disability and cannot count on the social security I earned prior to teaching…I understand, sadly, that the legslation to change this very, very unfair law has been in a Congressional committee for years and years and that nothing has changed? I wished our Unions could march on Washington, or someone would arrange a Million Teacher/Firefigter/Poplice walk on Washington, DC….even my poor son, a fire fighter, worked many years before this, and he loses most of it as well….NO FAIR….let’s do something now!!!

    Reply
    • Joyce Roberta "JR" Miller-Alper

      January 2, 2008

      Excerpts from letter sent to my Congressman:

      In May of 2003 I wrote you with a hypothetical situation that could have impacted my husband and my social security. You and I have discussed the issue further at numerous town hall meetings and in your Washington office.

      Although you have remained adamantly opposed to lifting the GPO and WEP offsets while many of your Democrat and Republican colleagues have cosigned HB 82, the impact on my life has become starkly real. I regret that having called your office and shared the devastating news that my husband had died. The depth of my sorrow has been almost too much to bear. My husband had also become my colleague as he had begun the new teaching year. After the burial which took place in Florida and the memorial here, I began to focus on the financial impact that will accompany my devastated emotional state.

      This is the result of my calls and visit to the social security office. He worked as a public school teacher and principal in New York State. He also worked as a manager of a private investigation company. All total he had twenty-six years PAID into the system. Those years have nothing to do with his dedication to children in Texas and his twelve plus years serving our state. When we visited the local office a few months ago he was informed that he could at least receive $674 a month social security because he was 62 but he chose not to take it because there was an earnings limit to collect and he would have had to sacrifice teaching. In my visit on December 21 this is what I learned-the real story of a real person, my husband.

      1. He paid $31,572 into social security.
      2. His employers paid $31,704 into social security
      3. He paid $14,750 into Medicare
      4. His employers paid $14,774 into Medicare
      5. Total contribution: $92,800.
      6. How much will I receive per month? NOTHING.
      7. I received a $255 payment to bury my husband-an insulting amount.

      You are absolutely correct when you speak of a “windfall” and that someone receives “something for nothing”. The answer to both of those phrases is the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. There is not a cost to the government, but a cost to my family-to me. A contract was made between the government and my husband and that contract was broken. When he earned his social security, no one told him don’t move to Texas, it will be impacted if you become a public employee.

      Think again about your opposition to the Social Security Fairness legislation.

      Sincerely and remaining your friend,

      Joyce Roberta Miller-Alper “JR”

      Reply
  4. A. McCray

    I accepted a teaching position and moved to Georgia in 2005. Our school system is a non-Social Security district. I paid into the Social Security for 25 years (that meet the taxable income level) while living in North Carolina but because I now teach in Georgia, my Social Security will be penalized 40% because of the WEP unless I can pay into Social Security 5 more years–At 30 years, the Social Security WEP is reduced to a 10% penalty. Unfortunately, at 58 that means that I have to either give up my current teaching position which I absolutely love or get a 2nd job that will pay me at least $25,500 a year of taxable income for 2014. When I retire as I plan to do here in Georgia, I will only have about 15 years of teacher retirement income which will average about 25% of my current salary. Without the Social Security WEP, I would be able to retire with about 50% of my income–But with the 40% WEP penalty, I will be collecting substantially less. I don’t understand why I’m being penalized for the 25 years that I paid into the Social Security system. I hope that the pending legislation to abolish the WEP is successful.

    Reply
  5. John Francis

    I was a “low-wage”, PERS part-time employee with 6 years total in the system.

    I was also a long-term(45 years minus 2 years of full-time PERS), low wage earner in the SS system. I began working at the age of 15(after fracturing my back the first time), and worked for over 40 years through another back fracture(1971).

    I actually earned a lot more in the SS system than the PERS system, both on a yearly average and in total … a LOT MORE.

    But I worked in a field that suffered greatly from recessions in the mid 70′s, a big recession in the 80′s and another in the 90′s … along with other “mini” recessions, fractured back(twice), and other health problems that began in about 2005 which kept me from working full-time and eventually actually kept me from working completely in 2011(having worked the past 5 years and “aggravating”, the latest problems that kept me from working full time).

    I actually had to retire because I had no money, along with heart problems, fractured back, neuropothy(sp), sciatica, and broken bones in my foot.

    SO … I retired, both, from PERS and SS and get a whopping $650 or so from SS and $162 from PERS …

    Okay … now comes the WEP. That provision that guarantees that I didn’t work full time PERS and still receive the benefit of being a long-term low wage SS worker(which often would mean summer … 3 months earnings each summer) … holy cow…

    SO … the SS now decides that they need to recover about $70 per month as a punishment tome, for working in two systems.

    Somehow, this doesn’t seem quite fair, in general, but I feel, especially so in the case of a person in my situation.

    Reply
  6. B.Lee

    I am not a teacher but I am the spouse of one. I have worked for 35 years in the private sector and have paid social security taxes for that entire period. It is a travesty to think that if I passed away my wife would not be eligible for my survivor benefits. This is simply unconscionable and needs to be rectified.

    Reply
  7. Winifred Tappan

    On July 17, 2013 I posted a comment about my appeals against the offset laws mistake that Social Security made in my benefits. Since then I’ve published my book, and have a live web site. My address has to be entered in ones address bar, not a search engine. I’ve also researched the SSA practice of improper payments, and feel that not only are the offset laws unfair, they are costly. It would actually cost less to pay all of us the money they are presently taking out of our benefits than they are spending trying to retrieve the over-payments. 42% of all mistakes made by the SSA are in connection with the WEP. Check out my web-site under Comments. I have emailed my congressman, Senator Michael Bennet. He helped me in my appeals recently.

    Reply
  8. Winifred Tappan

    A website address is in the process of being set up. I have a little different story to tell which I’ve just published in a book “Grappling With Government Abuse:My Social Security Nightmare.” I was overpaid by Social Security for eleven years. When SSA realized their mistake (unknown to me), they wanted all $16,000 back! I appealed it four times over eight years. I’m now 87 years old, and am receiving $571 a month less than I should be due to the WEP and GPO.

    Reply
  9. Carolyn Noga

    I taught in public schools for 32 years. I worked summers, evenings, and weekends, and had various other jobs that deducted for social security. I never took a vacation, never had a new car, invested my savings in the stock market, thought I was being wise. It was my bag lady prevention plan. I have been retired for 6 years, I am receiving .85% on the remainder of my savings, and with inflation and 66% reduction in what I thought I was going to receive from social security it looks like I may end up a bag lady after all my efforts. If the GPO/WEP act was repealed I might be saved from bag lady status. I have been calling and writing congress people for the past 20 years concerning this unfair situation. I have no hope that this will be resolved in my lifetime.

    Reply
  10. Linda Harter

    It is time to get rid of WEP. I started teaching because I had my quarters in for collecting Social Security. I thought that I would be getting that money when I retired. I recently found out that because of WEP that I am losing 50% approximately of what I had earned before I ever became a teacher. I am not going to teach right now as I am researching my options. Social Security has no clue. When I asked them questions they had no answers because they had not really dealt with people who would have to lose money because of WEP. I was told to talk to someone in my state. When I did try that I was told to talk to the main SS headquarters. No one has an answer except that I am losing 50% of what I have paid into the system. They also can’t explain what happens when one is on a defined contribution plan. This means that what is paid into the plan is 100% dependent on the stock market. I could end up with thousands or nothing. When I asked what would have happened if I didn’t work for those last 7 years in the teaching field and how would that effect my SS, I was told there would be no penalty and I would get all monies entitled to me. I understand that if you don’t pay into a plan you don’t get anything back out of it. The problem is when you paid into a plan for 20 years, then are told you are only going to get 50% of it because you decided to become a teacher and help educate children to become productive and contribute to the society they live in. I am not asking for more than I deserve just what I have worked hard for and earned fairly. Get rid of WEP before we end up without any public service employees. Go Mark and fight for us. Everyone needs a hero.

    Reply
  11. Joyce Woods

    My 200-word letter to the editor was published in the Medford Mail Tribune last week:

    Dear Editor,
    With some sadness, I picked up a new voter registration form. I’m changing my party affiliation.

    Both major political parties are held hostage by those whose twisted brand of financial speculation collapsed the world economy. The economic security my parents’ generation enjoyed has been out-sourced. Cash equals influence and cash-rich like Pete Peterson have unbalanced the political process which requires politicians to dial for dollars while promoting “austerity” for those who have the least.

    Austerity. Sequester. Sensible cuts. Who comes up with this stuff? ” Think that works? Spain now has 27% unemployment.

    Rep. Walden stated politicians were balancing the budget “on the backs of seniors.” According to Robert Reich, annual median income of people over 65 is $20,000. The average SSI benefit is less than $15,000. The cash-rich demand cuts to SSI COLA even though by law it can’t contribute to the deficit.

    COLA is under attack in Oregon. The state broke a contract with PERS retirees to siphon retirement funds. A good source for this is Retirement Heist by Ellen Schultz. When contract is broken, the sharks start circling.

    I think we average folks need to stop cooperating with our own economic demise and stop swimming with the fishes.

    Reply
  12. Luanne Mitchell

    I believe that the WEP and GPO are extremely unfair to teachers. Why should they be penalized for being teachers. My husband died at age 67 and I am unable to collect a penny of the money he paid into social security.

    Reply
    • Lorena

      It’s entirely fair What you all don’t seem to grasp is that the rest of us two income households don’t get to keep two social security checks when one of us dies. Why should you get special treatment. My husband and I have each worked in SS covered jobs for nearly 40 years, making roughly the same wages. When one of us dies, so does one social security check. Why do government workers think they are entitled to both? Yes your husband paid into SS, just like mine did. I don’t get his check when he dies, I only continue receiving mine, from my own work history. ONE check, not two. So again, tell me why you think you’re entitled but the rest of us non-government workers are not?

      Furthermore, SS is highly skewed to low income workers who receive back 90% of their pre-retirement wages in SS each year. Middle income people receive about 40%, and higher income people making around 110k a year, get back about 25% of their pre-retirement pay, and generally get back far far less than what they paid in. Low income people receive back huge benefits relative to what they paid in. The problem is when Government workers who worked in non-SS covered employment for many years want to be treated to the 90% back formula, rather than the 25% they should be getting. Hence the windfall penalty. I’m all for giving Government retires the higher benefit if their pension and SS together equal less than what they would have received in SS alone for their ENTIRE wage history COMBINING SS and Non-SS earnings, but that’s it.

      Reply
  13. Mary Birkenhauer

    Teachers need to support these Bills. Sadly, the GPO/WEP Ooffsets are one of the best kept secrets in DC, and it is affecting, I believe, teachers in 13 states. When I have spoken to legislators, they can’t believe this is happening to teachers, police, and firefighters.Many have no knowledge or understanding of the SS Offsets. Educate youself about the Offsets, THEN, lobby your US legislators.

    Reply
  14. Jennifer Buehler

    I retired from teaching middle school after 30 years in Illinois. My husband died in 1998 after paying into to social security for his entire life and receiving nothing. The small amount of money I received from my social security after the offsets doesn’t cover Medicare. Now the pension in Illinois is in shambles. This is a hard place for many of us to find ourselves after long dedicated careers to the students of this state. I was absolutely amazed to find that several legislators had figured this out!!!!! This is such an unfair practice. Just because I happened to work in the public sector and paid into my plan and had the sad and unfortunate experience of my husband dying, I don’t get his benefits?

    Reply
    • janice quas

      Yes, my story is the same. My husband passed in 1999 at age 51. I will retire in two years and the finances in Illinois are difficult to even try to explain….they are simply beyond belief. They stole our TRS money and now BLAME US. …not to mention the losses because of GPO WEP

      Reply
  15. Pat S.

    I am disgusted that hard working teachers are discriminated against with WEP and GPO! I worked for 20 years in the private sector until I was finally in a financial position to afford finishing my college degree and credential program to become a teacher. I started teaching late in life and will not be able to accrue 30 years or so towards my retirement. My education retirement, therefore, will not meet my retirement needs. Had I known when I decided to dedicate myself to the future of children (teaching in a high poverty school district with a lower pay scale despite the fact that I live in an affluent community) I would probably not have made the same decision. I now have to worry about my own future as I may become a burden to my children.

    I have paid into the mandatory Social Security system in my private sector positions, and I should therefore be paid benefits as any other citizen who draws on Social Security, based on my years of private service and pay rate.

    As this discriminatory policy becomes more well known to those considering public employment, our country may lose the talents of those who worked hard, paid for their own education, and bring experience, knowledge, and a good heart to serve the public.

    I will certainly never encourage my peers or others considering changing professions to consider public employment, and will tell them of the personal pitfalls they will encounter.

    Reply
  16. Rebecca Peebles

    This has been a travesty for many years. Besides not being paid an adequate salary for the jobs we do (teachers, policemen, & firemen), many public workers must supplement their salary by taking on part-time jobs (like cheerleading sponsor, a coach for a particular sport, or working as a clerk, etc. on week-ends and on vacations). I strongly resent government officials who “double dip” and retire on a “golden parachute” yet deny public service personnel who retire these benefits that they have worked for and earned. I live in Kentucky, one of the “unlucky” 13 states that suffer under the GPO and the WEP. I am a retired teacher and my husband works at a USEC uranium enrichment plant ( 38 years). If he dies before me his survivor’s benefits WILL NOT come to me as his designated beneficiary. They will go to some illegal alien or someone who HAS NOT WORKED and paid into the system. If I die before him the question is irrelevant!!!!! I DO NOT WANT TO BE PART OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM!!.

    Reply
  17. Susan Raymond

    I worked in one of the 15 states for a few years, retired, and now am teaching in a SS withholding state. I feel that I cannot retire at all until I am pushing 70. Last week one of our teachers (younger than me at 63) died. It gives pause to think that you might die while working and never see any retirement at all! With the stress dumped on teachers these days it is not out of the question! I hope they will see the light and eliminate the WEP/GPO now!

    Reply
  18. R. P.

    Not only have I worked in education for 35 years and paid into TRS, but I also have over my forty quarters for social security from another job. I am told I will not get my social security that was taken out of every check. I can almost deal with that-although it is totally not fair. BUT, my state is now voting on cutting my pension,that I so totally deserve, -paid into- and that they are stealing from me. The legislature even states that they blundered and didn’t pay into the pension fund and they are making the people that did pay in suffer! This is totally not fair And there is not a darn thing I can do about it! What are these elected people thinking? It is not like I am making millions. Plus, I have to pay full price for health care for myself and my family- no deals there! What am I then to live on?

    Reply
    • janice quas

      You must also live in Illinois! What rotten luck we have.

      Reply
  19. Renee Hale

    Social Security has been a cash cow for the legislature for years. Now it’s catching up to them and instead of paying back what is owed, they continue to reduce benefits. My husband worked for 26 years (plus high school jobs) and died at age 44. Our son received benefits for 10 months until he aged out, I received the $255 death benefit, I’ll get a little bit (because I’ll still be working full time) from age 60 until I receive my own. He contributed a lot more than his family will ever see.

    Reply
    • janice quas

      same for me. I plan to retire in two years (husband passed 14 years ago) and now Illinois is cutting my TRS. Where will this end?

      Reply
  20. Fred Cherny

    Here is another scenario. I started teaching in 1967, taught 7 years, drew out my TRS contributions thinking I would not teach again, and proceeded to work 21 years in the private sector and Parochial education which of course deducted Social Security monies. I had a total of 26 creditable years in Social Security and 10 years in Illinois TRS. My TRS pension is quite small and I have been penalized almost $400 a month from a small Social Security benefit I am also receiving. Also my wife, who died 8 years ago, obviously had her benefit forfeited to the government. Sure could use an extra $400 a month which I feel I am entitled to. I know someone who in receiving retirement from the National Guard, a pension from a local factory which was closed, a state pension from a local facility and also social security. Boy did I screw up.

    Reply
  21. Nancy Willis

    I too was an Educator for nearly 30 years, and also worked for 17 years in a variety of jobs. I am a widow with 2 adult disabled children who depend on me to keep things going. Instead of the “wonder years” of retirement, it has become a combo of the “Survivor and Amazing Race “series. It is patently UNFAIR for some government officials to double dip & retire on a “golden parachute”, yet deny public service retirees benefits that we worked for and earned.

    Reply
  22. B Combs

    I believe the Illinois Sponsor is Rodney Davis – not Rodney Alexander. . .

    Reply
  23. pamela nagler

    The Social Security Administration makes claims that the public worker who has spent or will spend some of their work life in the private sector will, upon retirement, receive a “dual entitlement”. However, the effects of the Social Security Offsets put some people into poverty upon retirement.

    Reply
  24. ej reeder

    you go, mark. it’s about damned time this unfair practice was eliminated. i, for one, want the money that my employers and i paid into the plan!!!

    Reply

Reader Comments

Learn More to Get Involved