Education News

How the government is stealing public servant pensions

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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17 responses to “How the government is stealing public servant pensions

  1. WIDOWS NEED HELP NOW! Kent Conrad and James Lockhart….think that Soc Security should be MORE FAIR to Widowed Women! Conrad thinks widowed women should GET THEIR OWN BENEFITS and 3/4 of their DECEASED SPOUSE’S BENEFITS! This model for Soc Sec would keep Widowed Women OUT OF POVERTY!!! REPEAL: WEP & GPO for Widowed Women WHO TEACH IN MISSOURI! Tell Congressmen to PASS: HR 973 & S 1651. OR….Time To Correct the MATH FOR WEP….per Kevin Brady’s HR 711.

    Social Security Advisory Board should be publishing a POSITION PAPER on the GOVERNMENT PENSION OFFSET….and the harmful effects it causes for widows…by the end of this year! Just as BRADY has said…TIME TO CORRECT THE MATH FOR WEP…the SSAB….should be documenting that it’s TIME TO CORRECT THE MATH FOR WIDOWS!!! WE EARNED AND DESERVE OUR SURVIVOR BENEFITS!!!

    I asked NEA lobbyist…Al Campos…questions about GPO….and he couldn’t answer my questions !!! I have paid NEA union dues for 25 years! I need to know about the 60 months exemption for GPO. Supposedly…if you work the LAST 60 MONTHS…IN A POSITION THAT PAYS INTO SOC SECURITY…AND THE JOB IS IN THE SAME RETIREMENT SYSTEM….YOU CAN BE EXEMPTED FROM GPO . Has anyone tried this? What do you know about GPO….that I don’t know ?????


    There’s suppose to be a law…that all new teachers in Missouri…are suppose to SIGN A PAPER….stating that the SCHOOL DISTRICT…has INFORMED THEM ABOUT SOCIAL SECURITY…AND THE 2 LAWS….WEP & GPO. I just asked a NEW TEACHER….if she signed her paper….SHE SAID SHE DIDN’T KNOW WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT! I personally don’t think the LAW is being followed. I know NEA….NEVER TALKS ABOUT WEP & GPO!!! Whenever I tell someone about these 2 LAWS…..they don’t believe me! My Fnancial Planner and Tax advisor….were completely unaware of WEP & GPO !!!

  2. I am a widow of 10 years and a retired teacher from CT and MA with 36 years of public school teaching. At 74 years old I find that I still need to work. The 40 quarters I have earned have allowed me to qualify for Medicare, however I only collect $101/month after that deduction. I am neither collecting what I earned nor what my late husband had paid into for over 40 years of work as an engineer. This is such an unfair treatment to teachers who have given so much to our children. Due to this provision, states like MA and CT will have problems recruiting new teachers and those changing from other careers into teaching. Most teachers need to work at least another job to survive during these economic times and so as a result have paid into social security. Why should we be treated differently than other professionals?

  3. What a travesty of justice!! This GPO/WEP was wrong on so many levels. It takes the monies hard working Americans have paid in and gives it to other countries and other sources. I have worked 58 years (30 for federal government); have approx. 60 quarters (approx 20 more than required to draw. When I attempted to draw at 62 there was not enough in there to draw. So, I have continued to work and am now 73 years of age. I started drawing Social Security at age 66 years and 10 months. I drew $150 per month. By continuing to work, I have gotten it up to $356 per month. Where I work I pay in $128 per month in Social Security taxes; does not leave much to take home. Stay at home wives can draw half their husband’s social security and never hit the earth a blow. I have worked 58 years; paid in and continue to pay and only draw 1/3 of what I am supposed to. In addition, only 15 states were supposed to be effected and Alabama (where I live) was not one of them; however, my SS is cut by 2/3. We are not asking for a handout only what we have paid for. Please somebody help us. Please do what is fair and quit taking our monies from us. Our government squanders enough money each day to pay all of us. We should not have to pay any additional funds in and should be given our monies. The time has come.

  4. A great deal of my frustration with the WEP is that I was NEVER told about it when I moved to a job in public education from New Hampshire, a state not affected by WEP to Maine, a state that will reduce my social security by a lot. This is so unfair as my pension is not nearly enough to live on without social security. If I had known this,I would never have moved to Maine. I am not a wealthy CEO with a big pension, looking to collect social security. I need it to retire. For now, I will have to work a very long time to make ends meet. My work is rewarding but stressful and tiring; I pray I stay healthy enough to continue.

  5. Like so many others, I will be receiving little if any of my own or spousal social security benefits. I would like to say that I can see why my state pension might offset my own social security benefits, but when one takes into account that recipients of huge severance pay amounts or “golden parachutes” can take those and still qualify to receive full social security the reality does not support this logic.

    I knew that the WEP would offset my social security to some degree, but did NOT know that it would also offset my spousal benefits. We are currently in the process of trying to sell our home because I will not be able to afford to stay here should my husband pass away before I do. Doubly penalizing government employees for trying to serve their states is totally unfair.

    I was not a teacher, but know that the NEA is an extremely effective force in initiating social change. I hope that this organization can bring this to light more publicly.

  6. As a Civil Worker, these stories scream (unfair) and (slow moving) repeal. For me as a Civil Worker…getting educated moving out of poverty and worked ranges 4 to 9. Now as a retiree, if widowed could be right back where I started in poverty. That is crazy.

  7. I worked in public education for 32 years. I have also paid into the social security system for 36 years. I am still paying self employment tax since i go into a low performing school twice a year and tutor students to try to help them pass the state mandated test. When i checked into social security last year i was told that although i had paid in and earned more than the required credits my check would be $174 per year. Furthermore, once i was eligible for medicare my check would drop to $70 per year. Add to that the fact that i will not be eligible for survivors benefits should my husband pass away before me. I could not believe that after dedicating my life to helping children i was being punished because i had paid into a required state retirement system. Please repeal these unfair penalties. I have been to the social security office and they practically laughed at me for even thinking about drawing social security. I decided to wait and not draw my social security until i absolutely need to. Later on that $70 per month may mean milk and bread.

  8. I worked from the age of 16 to present at 64. Until 45 I worked with Special needs children and adults initially in State Schools and later in Private agencies. at 45 I finally became a teacher, I intend to retire this year, with only 20 years it will be the lowest pension amount. I just was able to buybAck the time at the state school, but will lose all Social security. if my husband should pass before me, I’ll be singing hey buddy can you spare a dime.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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”

  16. 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.

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