Education News

How the little-known WEP provision hacks educators’ retirement benefits

By Amanda Menas

When educators retire, they rely on benefits they earned over their years of service in public schools to support the next chapter of their lives. However, nearly 2 million retired educators across the country are subject to the heartbreaking impacts of a program that for almost 35 years has threatened or destroyed public employees’ retirement security. 

The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the Social Security benefits of people whose work history includes both jobs covered and not covered by Social Security. That would include  educators in states where public employees don’t pay into Social Security who take on part-time or summer jobs to make ends meet. 

WEP has done financial harm to generations of retirees. Fortunately, there are members of Congress who understand that educators should keep the retirement security they earned in jobs they held outside of education. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) introduced the Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act to lessen the impacts of WEP and protect educators. If that bill becomes law, current retirees would receive an extra $150 a month and future retirees would gain an extra $75 a month, on average.

Here are three things you need to know about H.R. 4540 and what you can do to support it:

1. How WEP might affect you

Educators are among the people most profoundly affected by WEP. Fifteen states do not pay into Social Security for public employees, who must rely solely on their pensions. But many states do not meet their pension obligations and routinely shortchange retirees (by eliminating cost of living increases, for example).

WEP harms not only retirees, but the profession at large. For example, the provision dissuades career changers from considering teaching if their previous job did pay into Social Security, because those individuals could lose up to 50 percent of the Social Security benefit they earned in their first line of work. The maximum WEP reduction for 2019 is $463 per month. 

2. Educators are speaking out about retirement insecurity

Retired educator Jon-Paul Roden

When Jon-Paul Roden started teaching in 1965, he found that he needed to supplement his income. The side jobs he took on over the years made him eligible for Social Security benefits when he retired. But when he did so in 2000, he felt the impact of the WEP provision. Roden knew that he would be affected, but many of his colleagues are unaware until they are about to retire.

 “It changes a person’s lifestyle because they don’t have the income they were expecting or were entitled to receive,” Roden says. For nearly two decades, Roden has been an active NEA retired member, advocating with fellow former educators to explain the problem within their own communities and speaking with lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol.

Roden encourages other retirees to thank their members of Congress if they’ve signed on to legislation to address the problem. If they haven’t signed on, you can join Roden in communicating regularly to members of Congress: “Email, write, and tell them your story about the negative effects of WEP,” he advises. Here’s an easy way to do that:

3. What is NEA doing and how can you help?

In the past, NEA has opposed bills that offered a partial fix to WEP, because they simply created a new set of winners and losers. But the Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act has NEA’s support because it’s a good incremental step toward full repeal of both the WEP and its counterpart, the Government Pension Offset (GPO). That provision reduces the Social Security spousal or survivor benefits that public employees receive. Further, under the proposed bill, no one who is currently subject to WEP would get less money.

“This bill is a great step in the right direction toward protecting the Social Security benefits that educators, firefighters, police officers, and other dedicated public employees have earned,” said Marc Egan, NEA Director of Government Relations. “We fully support it even as we continue to fight for full repeal of WEP and GPO.”

NEA also supports the Social Security Fairness Act of 2019 (S.521 and H.R.141), which would completely repeal both WEP and GPO. The measure has bipartisan support that was built in part by NEA members, who sent more than 20,000 emails to Congress in the past year alone.

Add your voice! Write or call your members of Congress, and tell your stories about the negative effects of WEP and GPO.

Read more about legislation in Congress that affects retirement security. 

Take Action: Support H.R. 4540 to ensure public employees get the Social Security benefits they have earned .

Write your member of Congress.

112 responses to “How the little-known WEP provision hacks educators’ retirement benefits

  1. I can almost understand the 2/3 reduction for my contributions, but my husband passed away unexpectedly 2 years ago at age 56 and I was told that I could not have his benefits even at retirement age. Why? He put into in for almost 20 years and was not a public employee. This makes my future less secure and could even further burden my family depending on my health and other financial circumstances. How is this at all fair. It is like the government is stealing from my husband. Knowing this is a cautionary tale to anyone considering going into education in the public sector. I encourage my children to become teachers and they may now face this in their future too. I have also been told the people who work in upper education (university or college level) do not face the same penalties. How could this ever be deemed as fair.

  2. It seems simple that no one should be penalized for educating our children, as educators are part of the back bone of this nation–as the COVID pandemic thoroughly illuminated. In addition, if someone chooses to work longer and harder, which results in two or three careers in their lifetime, they should be rewarded for their contributions to this great nation and, once again, not penalized.

  3. I worked the private sector for 17 years my husband left me, mom died, and was left raising my 3 year old on my own. Which lead me to change my career path to a job with medical benefits in which I did not have before. With this exchange I took a major cut in pay and my new job does not pay into social security. I was unaware of the web. I have been there 20 years now. I need to retire and am saddened to find out my 42 percent of a pension will not be enough to live on because my social security that I thought I was going to receive will only be peanuts. I honestly feel if I paid into it I should receive it. I hope this passes

  4. I worked in law enforcement for 28 yrs and retired thinking to take care of my mom who was I’ll at that time. I made the decision to retire and take care of her thinking Iwould have a pension and social security. Iworked many Jo’s while working in law enforcement that Ipaid into social security. I am back to work now for many years because they took away money I should of been getting. And Istill cant get the money I should have received and Ipay into social security now and have been for a long time. So unfair

  5. The biggest problem with WEP is that SSA doesn’t seem fully aware of its existence and will often no figure in the cost of the windfall during the application process. What’ll happen is that they will figure your benefit without the windfall, proceed to issue full benefit checks, then come back some years later for an audit and refigure the benefit with windfall, leaving the retiree with a big payback bill. Happened twice to us, the first time with me, then again with my partner [yes, we should have been on the look out for it] even though we provided them with full financial disclosure. A shock to the financials of many, I’m sure. A shock to ours, I know.

  6. I worked for 46 years under Social Security. 27 of them were ‘SUBSTANTIAL’ Years. However I will lose 25% of my SS benefits for missing 10% of my SS earning years.

  7. I worked for many Big Corporations for 25 Years before becoming an educator. Becoming a business teacher I wanted to bring my real world knowledge into the high school classroom. At that time I did not know I would be punished for going into teaching, a noble profession, and have a chunk of my hard earned social security taken away from me. I even took a pay cut going into teaching. You would think the powers that be would embrace those that have worked in the private sector who want to share their knowledge with the youth and give back to the community. How is there any incentive if their Social Security is basically ripped from them? This rationale I simply do not understand and is so unfair.

    1. I, too, came to teaching from 20 years in another career and other part-time and seasonal jobs (some of it covered, some not), though not a high-paid one. I am a retired teacher after 22 years in that career. I felt as strongly as you when I first heard about this. I feel differently now, though I still review the math to reflect on my thinking. Most of the piece of SS that I don’t get that I would have is the piece that was always designed to lift up (subsidize) people who spent their careers in low paying jobs and reached normal retirement age. The equity that was being sought was based on how my SS earnings summary looks compared to what my reality is now with retiring on a public pension plus some SS. I don’t know your numbers, of course, but this calmed me down somewhat. When I thought that my “threshhold subsidy” was being used to pay someone else, I was pretty pissed. Now my ire is only based on the fact that people with private sector pension and not deprived of their threshhold subsidy. The government only controls what it has authority to control. Not all states support the WEP. The ones who do should be fully educated on the impact it has on their residents. A friend who was a teacher in a low salary state (Idaho) retained her “subsidy” because her first career, an SS-covered one in the retail coffee industry, paid her more and was “substantial” in that she spent enough years doing it.

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