Posted In: Educator Voices, Moving in Congress, Retired Educators, Uncategorized

Help protect retirement for public servants: GPO/WEP fix introduced in Congress

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by Tim Reed

Last week, Senators Mark Begich (D-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Dean Heller (R-NV) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the Social Security Fairness Act of 2013 (S. 896), previously introduced in the House (H.R. 1795) by Representatives Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Adam Schiff (D-CA). This legislation would repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which penalize people who have dedicated their lives to public education and other public service careers by taking away benefits they have EARNED.

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GPO reduces public employees’ Social Security spousal or survivor benefits by two-thirds of their public pension — nine out of ten people lose their entire spousal benefit, even though their spouse paid Social Security taxes for many years. WEP reduces the earned Social Security benefits of an individual who also receives a public pension from a job not covered by Social Security — hard-working people lose a significant portion of the benefits they have earned themselves.

What this means, in real terms, is that public servants such as teachers, firefighters and police officers are losing the benefits they earned through a lifetime of public service. Loss of benefits can result from moving from private to public employment and vice versa or moving between states that have different GPO/WEP rules.

The bipartisan legislation recognizes and respects the contributions of educators and other public employees by eliminating unfair penalties attached to public service. Nearly 1.2 million NEA members will be eligible for full retirement within the next 10 years. These people are educators that have devoted their lives to students.

The brave men and women serving  as police officers and firefighters even have to worry about their spouses being able to receive their survivor benefits if they lose their lives in the line of duty. After dedicating their lives to protecting our nation, we owe them, at the very least, the peace of mind that comes with knowing their families will be able to access the benefits they have worked their entire lives to earn.

AmbulanceThe effects of the unfair GPO-WEP practices have far-reaching implications for education, starting with disincentivizing a career in public service. We should be encouraging the best and brightest from the private sector to enter the teaching profession and help groom the next generation of leaders in this country, not punishing those who aspire to a life of public service.

Those who are attempting to enter public service across our country are being held back by the fear that they will not be able to provide for themselves and their families in retirement. Educator and former private industry employee “Pat S” said it well in a comment on a recent GPO/WEP article right here on Education Votes:

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.

Our students deserve the best educators our country can produce, but right now an entire generation of hopeful teachers and career changers are being turned away by a broken system. Stand up for public servants and retirement security by sending an email to your elected officials urging them to support the Social Security Fairness Act of 2013!

Reader Comments

  1. Lin Grady

    I earned my qualifying 11 years of social security quarters while working in two other states. After 30 years of teaching, why is the CommonWealth of Massachusetts allowed to deny me the majority of my earned social security money that I have already contributed? Robbers without a gun…

    Reply
  2. Hedy Siegel

    I too will be unfairly affected by the GPO and weeps laws. I have written to my congressmen and have received information about their supposed support of the social security fairness act.

    I would like to know what measures the NEA is taking to urge Congress to vote on and pass this once and for all! I feel like the NEA should be taking a more active part in helping to get these unfair laws

    Retired teachers who have had social security paid into the system from other work deserve to get their fair share back. A reduction of these benefits is unacceptable. But a powerful organization such as the NEA must take a more active role in helping!

    Reply
  3. Christine Storm

    I like several of the former commenters, worked in the private sector for several year earning enough quarters for social security benefits. I later had a career I public education and have a pension that I worked and saved for through my contribution. I feel that it is a form discrimination the teacher, fireman, police and other important and lower paid government who are eligible for social security are penalized and do not receive the benefits that we worked and contributed to.
    Why would anyone want to change jobs from the private to public sector if they are losing the prior pension the worked for. This must be be changed.

    Reply
  4. Verna Shaheen

    As a single woman who has worked for 45 years earning Social Security credits, and who went into part-time teaching with a love for the classroom, children, and fellow educators, I was faced with having to discontinue teaching as I became closer to being vested in the Teacher’s Retirement System in order to preserve all of my eventual Social Security benefits.
    The punitive practice makes absolutely no sense to me. I initially believed that I was doing the prudent thing in preparing for my retirement years, potentially both earning my SS benefits along with a hard-earned small Teacher’s pension. What a surprise I got when I instead learned about the punishment in California.
    I would venture to guess that women may be more proportionately and adversely impacted by this unfair practice. I know that I want to be as self-sufficient in my retirement years which will be upon me in the next decade, but this unfortunate glitch does not assist me in that quest.

    Reply
  5. Val Copyak

    I changed districts in the same state 2 years ago. Imagine my horror in discovering that my out of my 140+ accumulated unused sick leave, only 90 was allowed to transfer. There is a legislative mandate prohibiting transfer of more than 90 days. So much for putting off medical attention to summer and Christmas vacations!!!

    Reply
  6. janice quas

    My story is very similar to the one above. I also went back to college after having three children and paid for it with loans. The exception is that my husband then passed away (A Viet Nam Vet, owner of a small business, and village Mayor) That’s about the time I found out that I will never receive any of the money he “contributed” to social security, or the money I paid in during the years I worked outside of teaching. I think sometimes my head will explode I get so angry about this unfair law. Then I remember that I live in Illinois, the land of crooked politicians. They have made a mess of Illinois finances and blame teachers for their outrageous stealing of our funds. Its a joke. I just wish I could laugh.

    Reply
  7. Judith B. Kelley

    I have lost the spousal benefit because I was a teacher. I am pleased that this issue is being brought forward at this time. I understand that only a few states are affected. This does not seem fair. Thank you for addressing the problem.

    Reply
  8. Joe Cunha

    What bothers me the most is the fact that all my SS deductions from the pre teaching jobs don’t get refunded and SS still gets deducted and my employers still kick in their share from my second jobs now even though I get no return.

    I could be paid more if the employer didn’t have to pay in to ss on my non teacher earnings.

    Reply
  9. Matthew Valenti

    I want this fixed. I’ve watched year after year of failed legislation. I want what is supposed to be coming to me when i retire in two years.

    Reply
  10. Darrell W Hunt

    Thank goodness someone finally realizes the hardship GPO/WEP offsets inflicts on those who have worked in both the private and public sector. Please encourage your senators/congressmen to support this legislation.

    Reply

Reader Comments

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