Education News

GPO-WEP fix, the Social Security Fairness Act, fights unfair offsets that slash retirement benefits

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.

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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. The Government Pension Offset (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 or Social Security rules.

AmbulanceFor 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 each month really hurts.

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.

That’s why last week Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME), along with original cosponsors Sens. Baldwin (D-WI), Blumenthal (D-CT), Franken (D-MN), Heller (R-NV), Hirono (D-HI), Murkowski (R-AK), Reed (D-RI), Udall (D-NM), Vitter (R-LA), Warren (D-MA) and Whitehouse (D-RI), introduced the Social Security Fairness Act of 2015 (S. 1651), previously introduced in the House (H.R. 973) 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. The House version of the bill currently has 107 cosponsors, more than have ever signed on before to support this critical legislation.

military 230x130The bipartisan legislation recognizes and respects the contributions of educators and other public employees by eliminating the unfair penalties attached to public service. Nearly 1.2 million NEA members who have dedicated their careers to educating America’s children will be eligible for full retirement within the next 10 years.

The 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 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, veteran, and former private industry employee “John D.” said it well in a comment on a recent GPO/WEP article right here on EducationVotes.org:

Between my military service and years in private industry, I had 24 years paying into Social Security before becoming a teacher. Because of the penalty, I had to leave public schools and take a $20,000 pay cut to teach in a private school in order to protect my Social Security benefits.

Educator “Jill B.” shared her story of losing her husband, and then realizing she couldn’t even access her widow’s benefits:

Came from a dual retirement state–PA–worked in industry, then made the mistake of teaching in CA. Very little of my earned SS is available for me and no widow’s benefits. $14,000/year gone in a flash when my husband died.

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 2015!

102 responses to “GPO-WEP fix, the Social Security Fairness Act, fights unfair offsets that slash retirement benefits

  1. How nice for me that in 2008 the Wall Street criminals took my 17 years of investing and left me next to nothing without spending a day in Federal Prison. Now some CRIMINAL politicians felt a need to reduce my Social Security through WEP…Can someone explain to me why I even worked and saved?…Would be far better off sitting on my ass and milking the system.

  2. I retired from the State of Louisiana with 25 years at 60. I worked in the private sector from age 16 to 35 before that at low paying jobs, unfortunately. For SS, I will lose about half or more of my retirement amount due to the WEP/GPO.

    For my time with Louisiana, in the previous requirements, a person must work for FORTY years to obtain a full retirement from the state. The forty years requirement changed to FIFTY years in about 2006. It’s not possible to work for forty/fifty years AND work in the private sector AND receive full and self-supporting benefits from BOTH areas. My reduced benefits hinder my ability to pay bills and food.

    This is a draconian ‘punishment” placed upon civil servants and other government workers. What is the reasoning for this when there are no income limits for non-employment gains? A person with millions in a bank earning interest can still be eligible for SS even though those gains are many times larger than my pension.

    The amount taken from the poor can make the difference in survival for them. They/we are stuck between having enough income to eliminate their eligibility for SNAP and other benefits and being able to pay all of their bills. It isn’t fair.

    1. I was a seasonal firefighter, fire inspector, and had numerous manual labor laws for over 12 years..well over 40 SS credits. I have taught for a total of 15 years, some full-time, some not. Now SS says I’m not eligible for any benefits in most recent letter, and since Ive been laid off twice due to budget cuts teaching, will be near impossible to get full service credit in before I’m 75…Why did I pay all of that $ to SS if I get none back! Also found out that any benefits from CA STRS will cut benefits of SS (if had any) in half.

      I don’t know why I had an estimated SS benefit for so long, then suddenly said my estimated benefit was ZERO. When I first started working, they told me as long as you earn your 40 credits and work over 10 years in the SS program, you would get something. I risked my life numerous times fighting wildfires in many states, worked in very run down schools…now light at end of a tunnel looks more like a dying candle.

      1. “REPEAL: WEP AND GOVERNMENT PENSION OFFSET ! AMERICAN WIDOWED WOMEN WHO TEACH…NEED THEIR SOC SEC …..SURVIVOR BENEFITS….TO AVOID POVERTY !!!” Support: hr 1205, which is NOW….HR 141, S 915, John Larson’s HR 1902 and POWR HR 1583. Kevin Brady said: Time to Correct the Math. Justice DELAYED….is justice DENIED! Nancy Altman knows the TRUTH !!!

  3. I am a retired teacher in Ga. I was blindsided by this law, my SS went from what was expected from 1350 a month to 225 a month, my pension only a thousand a month! My mtg is 800 a month! How can you live off this? If that,s not bad enough they lower my SS every time I get a cola increase to my pension! I paid into SS for 21 years, I worker only 13 of those years with the gov. My ex contributed 30 years, for which I get zero because of the offset!
    I have a roommate, just to pay my bills so I want lose my home! My car is old, I fear of becoming sick, I am now seventy, I can,t even afford to visit my grandchildren! So why is any of this fair? We give money to other countries to Santuary cities, get off your asses and repeal this law!

    1. I totally relate. Missed the substantial earnings a few years by $100.00 watching 70 heartbeats in a hospital that took me 9 years to make $10.00 an hour. Many teachers with 40 years in Born into the system of “who you know” to get those jobs will retire making big bucks. They have no clue. I never married so Getting benefits from spouse”true double dipping” does not apply.

  4. My husband died at 48 so his SS was not that high. I worked for the local city gov. and had no choice in paying SS. When I applied for SS a age 60 (widows benefits) I was still working, nothing was ever said to me about what would happen when started to collect my pension and also what I could have done to protect it. ( In the code if you pay into SS the last 5 years of employment and sometimes less you are protected). I then decided to retire the following month because I had my time in at the City. I collected both for 8 years and got a phone call from SS and went in to see them. They took 2/3 of my widows benefits and I am now paying back the money that they said I should not have received. My income is now below the poverty level. Thank you USA.

    1. Hi, Carol ! I’m basically in the same boat as a widow. I’m still teaching in Missouri. What do you know about the 5 years/60 months elimination for the Government Pension Offset? I’ve been trying to get information about it…but don’t know WHO to contact. Thanks! Pam Brauer

    2. My huband died and when I retired they took 2/3 of his SS……I had to forclose on my house, little did I know because I worked for the state that I was under GPO……How fair is this? You lose your income from your husband who died at 58 and was a plumber. Now I collect my SS which I am under the WEP…..I worked 25 years in SS and only 19 with the state. This has to be repealed…..now when it was passed in 2005 anyone that retired before that was not under this new bill…..How is that fair????

  5. I retired from regular teaching in 1996,when I learned that all the years I taught in a state where I paid into SS; and all the jobs I had during my high school and college didn’t matter. My government has cheated me big time. I continued to sign petitions and sending money to fight this to no avail. Now calpers wouldn’t help pay my caregiver after I fell and broke my hip. The government gets away with cheating, cheating,CHEATING!!

  6. I have taught in a public school system for 44 years. I am still working, because if I retire, my Social security will be cut 50%, and my spouse will not be eligible to draw survivor benefits, should I go first. This is very unfair. I was not notified prior to becoming a teacher. This will prevent new teachers from entering the field, because they must be notified by law now. Had I known this, I possibly would not be teaching. Repeal the WPO/GPO. tHANKS.

  7. I am been unfairly treated by my government. Actually I feel I am being discrimated because I work the federal government. If windfall of socialsecurity I would have been given $1707 a month but only receive $141 because I get pension from CSRS and PERS which amount to about $2100. I didn’t like but accepted. But, I was to collect under his CSRS pension. He paid almost $200 a month for me to receive it. But, Social security said I was to be penalized 847. So instead of 1400, I only get $601. So, they are penalizing me more than I get. This is unfair. So, I am getting $141 from social security and 601 from OPM. Which is $745 a month. But, if I didn’t receive the $141, I would get the 1400 pension from OPM. So I am losing 1/2 of his OPM. This is unfair. I am thinking of filing claim for discrimation. As they are unfair. I have a appeal now with OPM that I should not penalized half of it.

  8. For many years Social Security mailed me annual notices stating what my retirement benefit would be. I had no idea why the notices suddenly stopped coming. When I retired, I was surprised to learn that, because I earned a pension while working for a public transportation company, I would lose about 45% of those benefits
    During my working life, I paid taxes to provide for AFDC, Section 8 housing, Medical, food stamps, and SSI disability and retirement benefits for others. (Those who never contributed to Social Security at all can receive Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare if only their spouse qualified.) I contributed to Social Security for myself as mandated and believed I had a contract with the government; in the end, I was short changed by WEP.

  9. I am a retired Federal employee who is a victim of the “WINDFALL ELIMINATION PROVISION” along with two million other retiree’s who have lost some or all of their earned social security benefits. NO LAW existed to inform employees about the GPO/WEP penalties, large numbers of current or formal employees have NEVER been told that their public service employment is jeopardizing their ALREADY-EARNED social security benefits. The law to require notification of new employees about the WEP/GPO ONLY went into effect in 2005. A worker has to be informed about what those offsets/penalties are in order to be in a position to determine their effects, but neither the SSA nor government employers have sufficiently publicized these penalties. Even with notification, the GPO/WEP were so lacking in logic, that many employees still do not understand their long-term financial effects.

  10. Not fair to lose pension where all educators, police men and women, and firefighters who have contributed into system forfeit benefits because of wep/gpo. Change the law so we get what senators and congress get “fair share”

  11. I too am a victim of the windfall elimination act. Teaching was a second career for me. So my second career reduces my SS benefit . I paid in my 30 years and now have a part time job to offset the SS that I don’t receive and was counting on. I was told early in my second career that I would receive my SS also because I had 30 years of paying into it, but what they didn’t tell me is that SS has an amount each year that has to be satisfied before a person is eligible.
    Also if my husband were to pass away before me, that amount too would be compromised.
    If I had not worked at all and drew SS as a spousal benefit, I would get more SS.
    None of this is fair to people that have worked their entire life and paid into SS.

  12. I am an educator and my wife is a registered nurse. Upon retirement, if she dies first, I will receive nothing from her forty years of contributions to social security. This is wrong.

  13. I am a retired teacher who also is a victim of the WINDFALL PROVISION ACT. Who do I contact to make a difference, instead of going through 5 people to get an answer. I would appreciate the person who really can go to bat for all of us.

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