Action Alert #99 What They Don’t Know Will Hurt Them!


Millions of public employees who are working in positions where they are not earning Social Security credits are unaware of the GPO/WEP penalties ahead of them. Some have relied on past boiler-plate information provided by the Social Security Administration about their own earnings toward retirement.  Others have expected that the joint property income that went into the FICA deduction on their spouse’s pay stub would somehow also go to benefits for them when they retired.

A recent survey by the California State Retirement System showed that nearly half of the state’s active teachers are unaware of how or if the offsets will affect them.

Our own survey several years ago, which had 3,250 responses and included every state, showed that only about 5% of workers had understood the offsets when they first started government work. Most learned of the penalties within 5 years of retirement or at a retirement workshop. An astounding 28% found out only when they went to the SSA office to claim their benefits!

It has also happened that unknowing public retirees have gone to an unknowing Social Security agent and have collected full SS retirement benefits. When they are discovered, the retiree is responsible for paying back what could have been years of benefits. Technical improvements at the SSA, will soon allow them to discover more public retirees who are being “overpaid.”

Retirees affected by the GPO may soon find that, as their pension receives cost-of-living increases, their SS spousal benefit will be reduced by 2/3 of that increase—get $3 more from your pension, lose $2 from your Social Security spousal or survivor benefit.

On our survey, only 20% of those affected by the WEP knew that if they had more than 20 years of SS their penalty would be reduced each additional year until there was no penalty with 30 years of substantial SS earnings.

Political upheaval in all directions has made many people weary, but this is also a good time to bring up what are blatantly unfair laws as they begin to talk about Social Security reform. There is work to do! To make an impact, we need more support from current workers. CONTACT YOUR CURRENT EMPLOYEE GROUPS—MAKE SURE THEY SEND OUT THIS INFORMATION.

The California State Teachers Retirement System has an excellent two-page flyer on its website for current employees. You can download the PDF file here:
CalSTRS Social Security Warning Flyer

You can also use its well-chosen information on your own flyers:

As a California public school educator, you do not contribute to Social Security, so you will not receive a Social Security benefit for your CalSTRS-covered employment when you retire.
If you are counting on Social Security through other employment or your spouse, read this fact sheet carefully. Two federal rules, the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset, may leave you with a smaller Social Security benefit or possibly no benefit at all.
These rules affect only your Social Security benefit. Your CalSTRS retirement benefit will not change

Windfall Elimination Provision

Affects your Social Security benefit that is based on your earnings from other employment.
May reduce your Social Security benefit, but it will not eliminate it.
The reduction to your Social Security benefit cannot be more than half of your monthly CalSTRS benefit.
Does not apply if you have 30 or more years of substantial earnings under Social Security.
If you paid Social Security taxes on substantial earnings for:
» Up to 20 years, this provision reduces the 90 percent factor of the Social Security computation formula to 40 percent. For an example, see the table to the right describing how your Social Security benefit would be affected if you turn 62 in 2018 with 20 years or fewer of substantial earnings and retire at age 66. The dollar value of each part is adjusted annually and will increase or decrease depending on the age at which you start receiving your Social Security benefit.
» 21 to 29 years, the 40 percent factor increases incrementally from 45 percent to 85 percent and will increase or decrease depending on the age at which you start receiving your Social Security benefit.

Regular Formula

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Windfall Elimination Formula

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Government Pension Offset

  • Affects the Social Security benefit you receive as a spouse or surviving spouse.
  • May reduce or eliminate your spousal Social Security benefit.
  • Will reduce your Social Security benefit by two-thirds of your CalSTRS retirement benefit.
  • For example: Assume your expected spousal Social Security benefit is $600 and your CalSTRS retirement benefit is $1,200.
    • Two-thirds of $1,200 is $800.
    • Subtracting $800 from your $600 spousal Social Security benefit leaves a negative amount, so you would not get a Social Security benefit.
  • Use the calculators at to estimate any effect on your Social Security benefit.

Important Things to Consider

  • Social Security is a federal program, and neither CalSTRS nor the State of California has control over eligibility requirements or benefit calculations.
  • If you’re receiving Social Security now, your Social Security benefit may be reduced or eliminated when you begin receiving your CalSTRS benefit.
  • If you take a CalSTRS refund, your Social Security benefit still may be subject to offset.
  • Let the Social Security Administration know when you plan to retire so that your Social Security benefit may be adjusted. Otherwise, you will have to repay any excess Social Security benefits you receive once you begin receiving your CalSTRS benefit.
  • When you receive your CalSTRS annual benefit adjustment, contact the Social Security Administration. Your Social Security benefit may need to be adjusted.
  • These two rules do not affect your Medicare benefits.
  • Social Security benefits paid to CalSTRS option beneficiaries and survivor benefit beneficiaries are not affected by these rules.