Posted In: Educator Voices, Retired Educators, Uncategorized

How the government is stealing public servant pensions

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by Tim Reed

Educators, firefighters, police officers, librarians, nurses and other public employees already contribute up to ten percent of their salary towards their pensions, and many do not even get Social Security. Despite this, the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)  penalize people who have dedicated their lives to public education and other public service careers by taking away benefits they have EARNED.

Luckily, Democrats and Republicans in both the Senate and House of Representatives are working together to address these troubling provisions. The Social Security Fairness Act of 2013 has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) as HR 1795. On the Senate side, Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK), Dean Heller (R-NV), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have introduced the same bill as S 896.

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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.

GPO/WEP does nothing more than punish those who have dedicated their lives to serving their communities. Take Heidi from Maine, for instance:

My husband was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of brain cancer. After surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, his sight was affected so he could no longer drive or read. Therefore, he could no longer work as a real estate appraiser. We lived on my teacher retirement pension, my small Social Security benefit ($250 a month before Medicare), and his Social Security check of $1,600. It was an adjustment having one income totally lost, but with careful management and no unforeseen unexpected expenses we could do it.

My husband lost his battle in April. Within two weeks of his death his Social Security benefit no longer was coming. After a phone interview with a Social Security representative, I found out that I would see none of it. Now my income was almost cut in half again. Trying to deal with his death was compounded immeasurably by this huge loss financially. I still wonder how I am going to make it. My husband worked all his life and paid into Social Security. He was in the Marines and the Army and was a Vietnam vet. I worked as a teacher of young children most of my life as well as other jobs to earn my Social Security benefit. The GPO and the WEP are devastating to me. What can I do to help get these repealed?

Not only does this policy devastate families of veterans, educators, and other public servants, but it is also having a negative impact on attempts to recruit the best and brightest from the private sector into teaching careers, like Carrie from California:

After graduating from college, I went to work in corporate America. I worked my way into management and was making three times what I do now as a school teacher. For twelve years I was in a rewarding position, doing the “right” thing in life, making a good salary, and was very proud of what I did for a living. Due to company management downsizing, I was forced to make a decision to move or demote. I chose to leave the company and go back to school to get a teaching credential.

To this day, I believe that it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I believed (and still do) that I could make a difference in students’ lives. Now, I find out that my financial reward for all these hard years of honest work is to have my Social Security benefits significantly cut each year that I teach. This is a true example of the government making it “easier and better” not to go into public service. There is something wrong when our country needs good, qualified, devoted teachers, and then takes away the money they earned before they decided to become good, qualified, devoted teachers. Some of the best teachers we have are those who have brought all their prior experience, travels, knowledge, training, and skills to the classroom. Why are we penalizing these great teachers?

Until they hear a chorus of educators and public servants demanding change to these provisions, legislators will continue to balance the budget on the backs of retirees. Email your elected officials today and urge them to repeal the GPO and WEP!

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Reader Comments

  1. Sheila Underwod

    My dad paid social security all of his life. But when he died he only received $255.00. People that pay social security all of their lives, deserve to receive their benefits. My husband has worked 2 jobs and will probably only receive his retirement from teacher’s retirement and very little from Social Security even though he paid it all of his life. He will be punished because he did 2 jobs. Not fair.

    Reply
    • Imaginativeone

      Might want to further investigate that at your local SSA office.

      Reply
  2. Sherron

    My husband retired from the Army National Guard and maintained a full time job for many years. I have given my life to the public in the form of being a high school teacher, guidance counselor.
    Should my husband pre-decease me, I will likely be unable to draw any of his Social Security due to my teacher retirement.
    My husband earned every drop of his Social Security and intended it to be available for me, if he passes away first.
    Here is my complaint: If he had married a woman who did not work at all or have another private sector job, she would be eligible to draw his Social Security death benefits. Because I chose to teach, I will not be able to do so. What is right or fair about that???? Nothing, since it is money he EARNED. Please repeal GPO/WEP.

    Reply
  3. Gerre

    The WEP is just wrong. More and more teachers, especially at the college level have worked in the private sector before going into teaching, or they, like myself, are working part-time in college and part-time in the private sector. The majority of college teachers are adjunct (part-time), so we have no choice, but to puzzle together income from a variety of sources to create a livable annual income. After 20 years working part-time as an adjunct and part-time for private colleges, I will retire on only $800/month from my teacher pension (because I am part-time) and my Social Security of $800.00 (from the private sector) will be reduced to $396.00 because of the WEP calculation. I will be living way below the poverty line and the government will still take over half of what I should be receiving from the Social Security Benefit that I have paid into for over 20 years. This is a blatant injustice and it needs to remedied. Many people are caught in this unjust WEP adjustment. The WEP needs to be repealed and people who have paid into both their service pension and their Social Security benefits need to be given back what they have fairly paid into over the years.

    Reply
  4. Margaret Denn

    While overseas with my Airman husband and son, I decided that when I got back to the states I would go to college to become a teacher. It took me eight years to get my BA while also taking care of my family. After leaving the Air Force with nine and a half years served, my husband worked while I was in school and for the next twenty-five years. He died of cancer five years before I had my thirty years in order to receive full retirement. I continued to teach. When I retired at nearly sixty-five, I discovered that I was not entitled to any of his Social Security even though he had paid in for all those years. Because my Social Security was more than his survivor benefit would have been, of course, I chose to draw on my own. My teacher’s retirement has no COLA so its value continues to go down and the Social Security raises I get do not make up the loss. To add insult to injury, the Washington state legislators have balanced the state budget on the backs of the retirees more than once. It is a lose-lose situation.

    Reply
  5. Lydia Pineiro

    While teaching, I also worked at two jobs to get Social Security. When I retired I had all the necessary quarters to get Social Security but the government kept all the money withdrawn from my pay checks and I now get $8.00 a month social security. When my husband passed away 2 years ago, I could not touch any of his social security. This is very wrong and I hope the GPO/WEP will be repealed so that I can fairly get monies that are due me.

    Reply
  6. Pam Lanning

    It IS frustrating. I worked various jobs and paid into Social Security from the age of 16 through 29. I returned to college full time at 29 yrs. old and got a teaching degree. I have taught 30 years and will continue to teach until I feel that I will have a fair amount of retirement to live as I wish. It really seems unfair that I will receive UP TO half of what I earned as a private sector employee and nothing of my husband’s benefits. I know people who worked VERY LITTLE of their entire life outside the home. If their husband passes, they will get not only their husband’s pension but also their Social Security benefits. I feel as if I am being punished for choosing to devote my life to being a teacher. I understand the concept of trying to keep the SS system solvent, but it seems very odd and frustrating that people who paid into it for years will receive a reduced amount or no benefits at all and people who paid little or nothing will collect spousal benefits.

    Reply
  7. victoria krziza

    We in Michigan were promised that when we signed up for the MIP program that our retirement would not be taxed because the state was using our money interest free. Now Gov. Snyder comes along and completely ignores the deal that we made so many years ago. I have a booklet that lays all of this out. I received it when I signed up for MIP, so it is not some half-remembered promise. I lose over $100.00 per month so the Gov can brag about a “balanced budget”

    Reply
  8. Sylvia Spear

    Unfair to teachers and other public servants. I raised two boys and worked part time until they were in high school. Didn’t earn enough quarters to collect SS. My actual pension time was actually 29 years. My husband is retired on SS. I get none of his spousal benies because my pension is too much, barely, to qualify for them. I will receive none of the survivor benies if he should pass before I do. Somehow, all of this seems unfair.

    Reply

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