By Katie Kanner
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When Kentucky music teacher Jim Sproul discovered just how much he would receive in Social Security each month, he was floored. After paying into Social Security for 40 years, Sproul would collect less than half of the monthly benefits he initially expected as a result of two controversial laws that result in severe cuts to retirement benefits: the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).
GPO reduces public employees’ Social Security spousal or survivor benefits by two-thirds of their public pension — 9 out of 10 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 — meaning hard-working people lose a significant portion of the benefits they have earned themselves.
An educator for 29 years, Sproul has devoted his life to educating children. He’s taught choral music, general music, and served as the principal and assistant principal at three different public schools. But like many educators, he’s also worked odd jobs in addition to teaching in order to make ends meet. So naturally, Sproul was expecting to receive benefits from both Social Security and his public pension.
“Some people call it double-dipping,” says Sproul. “But no one is asking for anything they didn’t earn.”
Not only are GPO and WEP penalizing existing teachers, but they are also discouraging the best and brightest from entering a career in public service. “I’ve explained the ramifications of GPO-WEP to people thinking about switching to teaching, and then they change their mind because they don’t want to be affected by it,” says Sproul.
Oftentimes those who enter the teaching profession later in life have paid into Social Security for years, and don’t realize they won’t receive those full benefits until it’s too late.
The effects of the unfair GPO-WEP practices have far-reaching implications for education and for those who dedicate their lives to public service. Students are losing out as potential educators are discouraged from joining the teaching force. And countless educators who have dutifully served the public sector are unfairly losing retirement benefits.
Jim Sproul is just one of thousands of public servicemen and women who are being forced to survive on less than they earned because of the harsh consequences of GPO-WEP.
The bipartisan Social Security Fairness Act of 2015 (H.R. 973) would repeal the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision. Tell your member of Congress to support H.R. 973 so that public employees and educators can receive the benefits they have earned.