Thursday, October 29, 2015

Repeal the Punitive Government Pension Offset & Windfall Elimination Provision

“Even though public employees and/or their spouse have paid the required Social Security contributions, their Social Security benefits may be cut by thousands of dollars or entirely eliminated.  It is not uncommon to be penalized by both the GPO and the WEP.

Explanations of the GPO and the WEP, two Social Security Offsets:

“Public employees may be penalized by the Government Pension Offset and lose a portion of or even all their earned Social Security retirement benefits if their spouse of at least ten years has earned Social Security retirement benefits and they are entitled to spousal benefits. They are penalized by the Government Pension Offset when they begin to collect their pension from a ‘non-covered’ public position. 

“They will probably lose all the benefits due them as a dependent spouse--a non-working spouse normally receives, in addition, a Social Security payment equal to half that of the Social Security earner. They will lose at least part of or, more often, all of the Social Security retirement payments that normally go to the widow/er who is entitled to 100% of the earner’s benefit.

“Medicare premiums are higher if they lose all Social Security benefits. They will also be denied the $255 burial payment sent by the Social Security Administration to bereaved families if they are a widow/ widower with a government pension.

“Public employees may be penalized by the Windfall Elimination Provision and lose up to 60% of their earned Social Security retirement benefits if they have had two jobs: one in which they paid Social Security taxes and, therefore earned their own Social Security credits, and another job in which they did not pay Social Security taxes. (The latter job is referred to as ‘non-covered’ public employment).

Why the GPO and the WEP are unjust:

“The GPO/WEP are based on faulty assumptions. The offsets were based on a decision to treat pensions from certain public positions as if they were the same as Social Security benefits, despite the fact that these ‘non-covered’ state and local positions have nothing to do with Social Security.

These public agency pensions were earned separately and differently from Social Security; yet, they are used to reduce the amount of Social Security benefits that a worker receives during retirement. When participation is required by both Social Security and also by State and local pensions, the public pension is earned and collected separately. Therefore, it should have no effect on Social Security benefits earned elsewhere.

“The GPO/WEP formulas are arbitrary and inconsistent.  Social Security and public agency pension benefits are treated differently by federal tax law.  While federal income tax is collected on public agency pensions, Social Security benefits are often sheltered completely from this tax.  State community property laws may treat them differently as well.  Due to these two differences, a public pension should not be used to offset the amount of Social Security earned.

Unintended/Undesirable Consequences of the GPO/WEP:

“Loss in earned benefits is severe, often resulting in substantial lifestyle reductions and even poverty for formerly productive working citizens of the middle/low class.

“Seventy-four percent of those affected by GPO lose their entire spousal benefits.   According to the 2013 Congressional Research Service Report in December of 2011, the average yearly public pension for those affected by the GPO was $24,780. For a person with this average pension, the GPO resulted in an annual loss of more than $6,876 in earned Social Security benefits. Few people can sustain a loss of that much money in retirement. Older workers often have pensions that pay half that amount, and they still lose the same percentage of their deserved Social Security retirement benefits. It is possible for one’s spouse to pay Social Security taxes as much as $90,000 and yet the survivor may receive nothing from what was a contribution of joint marital income.

“The WEP was not designed to affect the middle or low wage earners that it can deeply penalize. WEP cuts to earned benefits are substantial, commonly causing serious lifestyle reductions. Someone with a pension of only $900 a month from a ‘non-covered’ government job can have his/her earned monthly Social Security benefits cut from $600 to $300.

“The GPO particularly represents discrimination against women.  The GPO currently penalizes more than one half million retirees; 79% of them are women. Of those affected by the GPO, the average non-covered government pension for men was $961 more per month than the pension paid to women. The women affected often have lower pensions to start with, and the Government Pension Offset reduces their Social Security benefits by an average of $7,308 a year for women, as opposed to $5,148 a year for men. (Congressional Research Service Report 1/8/2013)

GPO/WEP Penalties Are Not Well Publicized:

“Until recently no law existed to inform employees about the GPO/WEP penalities. Large numbers of current public 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 these offsets are in order to be in a position to determine their effects, but neither the SSA nor government employers have sufficiently publicized these penalties for people who have been employed since before 2005.  Even with notification, the GPO/WEP are so lacking in logic, that many employees still do not understand their long term financial effects. 
Who is penalized?

“One third of all America’s educators teach in states penalized by the GPO/WEP. This is clearly a negative for those considering teaching as a profession.  With retirements and other attrition every year, our country needs more high-quality new teachers. To provide a competitive educational system, we should be attracting those people who are looking for a meaningful second career as well as bright young people. Discouraging them with penalties is foolish.

“Federal workers hired before 1984 (and 29% of state and local government workers), including first responders--fire and police personnel--who may have come from the military as well as teachers, librarians, air traffic controllers, secretaries and others who fully-earned Social Security from previous jobs, will be cut back when they retire.


“The $8-10 billion cost to repeal the GPO/WEP is minimal when compared to the total amount paid in Social Security retirement benefits annually. The annual estimated cost to repeal GPO/WEP amounts to less than 2% of the overall Social Security benefits paid to recipients (Estimated Trust Fund Information).


Click here for the Social Security Fairness website.



  1. I am one of the female retirees who is affected by the Windfall Profit Elimination Act. I lose $450 of my earned Social Security every month. I paid into the Social Security system for 32 years, although only 24 were considered qualifying years so I did not qualify for the 30 years exemption to the Act. I returned to teaching in the public schools in Illinois in 2005 at the age of 55. I was never advised of this penalty and only learned about it in 2008. My husband, who continues to pay the Spousal Benefits charge for over 45 years, was never allowed to drop that payment or receive a refund even though I will never be allowed to collect it.

    A colleague of mine who retired from the same Illinois public school at the same time I did in 2013, also taught in the Michigan Public Schools for 15 years. Since Michigan is not a participant in the Act, she accrued full pension and Social Security benefits for those 15 years which pushed her over the 30 year exemption mark. She does not lose anything each month on her Social Security benefits. Although I am happy for her, I am also angry at this arbitrary and discriminatory system that penalizes me $5,420 per year for the privilege of working in Illinois and penalizes my husband as well who must pay for benefits that I will never be allowed to receive.

    What can we do?

    Mrs. Patricia Lofthouse

    1. TAKE ACTION! E-mail and call Congress. Tell your Representative to support and co-sponsor the bill to end GPO and WEP and restore Social Security fairness.

  2. Dear Mr. Brown:

    Thank you for contacting me to voice your support for repealing the Windfall Elimination and Government Pension Offset Provisions in current law. I appreciate your active participation in our legislative process. Your involvement helps me more effectively represent you and the Eleventh District of Illinois.

    I agree with you, and you will be pleased to know that after hearing form constituents such as yourself I joined as a co-sponsor of H.R.973, the Social Security Fairness Act of 2015. Introduced on February 13th, 2015, by my colleague Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL), this measure would repeal the government pension offset requirements for Social Security that apply to the insurance benefits of spouses, widows and widowers, and mothers and fathers. The bill would also repeal windfall elimination requirements used to calculate an individual’s primary insurance amount under Social Security.

    As you know, when Social Security was first created, public employees were intentionally excluded because they already had pension programs in place. Unfortunately, this rule has resulted in millions of hardworking public employees and their families being penalized when they retire. H.R.973 has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means. Please know that as a co-sponsor of this bill, I plan to vote for it if I have the opportunity to do so in the House of Representatives.

    I apologize for the delay in responding to your concerns. It is my policy to respond to every one of the thousands of emails, faxes and letters I receive each month. Hearing from the people I serve is vital to doing my job right. Thank you again for taking the time to share your concerns and I hope you keep in touch with me on this or any other issue you feel important. To stay informed of my work, or to sign up for my electronic newsletters, please visit my website at It is an honor to represent you.

    Bill Foster
    Member of Congress

  3. I have heard this story over and over again as I visit local retired teachers' groups. When a SS eligible spouse dies, a SS non-eligible spouse gets nothing.