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.
For 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.
The 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!