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Retired Public Servant Feels Government Pension Offset is “Unjust”

Posted on Monday, April 3, 2023
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by Russell Gloor, AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor
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1 Comments
Social-Security

Dear Rusty: I’m a retired firefighter and live in Ohio. I earned Social Security from my side employment, but the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) hit my Social Security very hard.  My wife worked in the school system and earned a state “SERS” pension. I understand the WEP offset and that doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that my wife doesn’t get my Social Security benefits when I die – her state pension is above the monthly limit for her to receive my Social Security. I earned that benefit by working extra jobs and being away from my family, and it seems unjust that my benefits expire with me. Thanks for letting me vent. Signed: Retired Public Servant

Dear Retired Public Servant: The provision you deem as “unjust” isn’t the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) which affects SS retirement benefits for those who also have a “non-covered” pension (a pension earned without contributing to Social Security); rather it is the Government Pension Offset (GPO) which also affects those who have a pension earned without contributing to Social Security. Though I know it is no consolation, your frustration about the Government Pension Offset (GPO) is shared by nearly a million other Americans in a similar situation. The GPO has been law since 1983 and is intended to “equalize” how spousal and survivor benefits are paid to all beneficiaries. I’m certainly not defending it, but I’ve researched why the GPO was enacted decades ago.

Historically, ever since spousal and survivor benefits became part of Social Security’s benefit structure in the late 1930s, if a spouse also has their own personally earned SS benefit, any spousal/survivor benefit they also became entitled to was offset by their personally earned SS retirement amount. The prevailing opinion in the 1983 Congress was that because regular spousal and survivor benefits are normally offset by the spouse’s own earned SS benefit, it was unfair that a spouse who had a “non-covered pension” didn’t incur the same offset as those who had no such non-covered pension. Thus, GPO was enacted in 1983 to “equalize” how spousal and survivor benefits were paid. It is the GPO that will affect your wife’s benefit as your surviving spouse because she earned her state pension while not contributing to Social Security. 

To give you a more personal perspective, if your wife had, instead, worked outside of the OH school system and was entitled to a full Social Security benefit based on her own earnings from which she contributed to SS, any survivor benefits she might become entitled to from you would still be offset by her personally earned SS retirement benefit. If her own SS retirement benefit was more than her entitlement as your widow, she would get no additional amount as your surviving spouse. Or if her own SS retirement benefit was smaller than yours, her survivor benefit would still be offset by her own benefit (her benefit would be paid first and only a supplement added to bring her payment to the higher amount she was entitled to as your widow). The purpose of the Government Pension Offset is to equalize how spousal, or survivor benefits are paid to those with, and to those without, a non-covered pension. Indeed, because the GPO only offsets the potential spousal/survivor benefit by 2/3rds of a spouse’s non-covered pension, the GPO is actually a bit more forgiving. 

This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website (amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory) or email us at [email protected].

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David
David
4 months ago

Hey Rusty, Most people hurt by this law knows the basic info without you repeating the “what could have happened if..” If they decided not to risk their lives by being a firefighter or a police officer, If they did not teach underprivileged children in public schools, if they did not have a public pension that did not collect SS BUT STILL worked OTHER employment that DID PAY into the system. 50% SS reduction for other jobs they paid into system and No 1/2 spousal benefit unless they get almost nothing from their COLA less teacher retirement. Why does Elon Musk wife get 1/2 of her husbands SS? Why does Bill Gates wife get 1/2 of his SS even if they NEVER worked one day in their life but if you risked your life then you received zero spousal benefit! How about checking their 401K balance and if they have 3 million or so then their SS is reduced by 50%-would that be more fair? 301 House Reps co signed Repeal of WEP and GPO house bill HR 82. Will AMAC back this bill officially? All members and future members wish to know..

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