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

[table id=6 /]

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.

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  1. Upon retiring from Federal Service, and being 65,I applied for social security. At first, I was told I would get my full social security that i had paid into before I ever worked for Feds. Then, surprise, surprise, I was told by rep for Social Security that my S. S. would be cut by twwo thirds due to gov pension offset. I was never told of this by personnel before my retirement. I would certainly have waited longer to retire hadI known. I cannot live on my downgraded social security. I am forced to live with someone I loathe, cannot visit my children,etc? I know no one will do anything just wanted to vent. So unfair, I paid into it, all of it. How can this be right?

    1. Use the bottom part of the Alert, write it up for Georgia teachers, or whatever workers, and get that information to the schools districts and worker groups. You may want to show them what the CA teacher retirement administrators have done. They not only warn people, but they have a way for teachers to save extra money for retirement, since they will lose so much Social Security.

  2. I will continue to explore ways to change, amend or eliminate the WEP/GPO penalty.  I believe that there are legislators that do not know the unfairness that this penalty creates.  Why there are  10 or more states with this penalty is beyond my understanding.  Why the penalty in the first place???

    WEP/GPO penalty.  What windfall?  For almost 50 years of contributions to SS I only receive 1/3 of my earned benefits.  50 years of contributions only to be penalized because it is a WINDFALL.  EVERY summer since I was 16 I worked part time jobs.  Since retirement I have worked yearly paying into SS and being denied my “EARNED BENEFITS”  don’t call it an entitlement.  I almost don’t even have enough from SS monthly to pay for Medicare.  

    Pension Offset?  Now the state of Illinois has had their “pension reform” vote and continue the unfairness to state retirees.  I am an educator that served the public.  Firemen, bus drivers, police and countless others are going to be penalized for their contribution to the public and for what reason?  My pension is diminished because I have SS contributions for 50 years,  my SS is diminished because I was and educator.  That to me is a double penalty.  Penalize SS because of a state pension AND penalize the state pension because you have SS.  How fair is that?

    Having paid into Social Security each year since high school based on my temporary employment during each summer while I’ve taught. Now 6 years after retirement my part time Wal*Mart job as a greeter I continue to see pay deducted for social security and realize that the benefits of this won’t be recovered because I will lose two thirds of the rightful benefit of my contribution. The past 45 years of contribution where in field UNRELATED to my teacher’s retirement.  What windfall will I be receiving if I’m allowed to collect my full benefit of social security as others do who have paid into the system? Why are politicians immune to any offset of their pension benefits? Could you direct me to how I can best be able to get this message across to those who can best help. I have written my representative and each time receive of form letter that their staff sends out thanking me for the contact but never address the issue or the usual “political rhetoric” that my concern is important to them. 

    How else can I help your organization to get these points across?

  3. Shame that our company and my summer jobs took my social security payments and will not allow me to draw my benefits now that I have been retired since 1998.

  4. It is a shame this has been allowed to happen. If you paid it in you should be entitled to it. I am subject to both wep and gpo. I am a divorced spouse, 70 years of age and still working paying even more money into social security. All because I have TRS retirement.

  5. As a substitute teacher I pay into TRS and Social Security. (As a sub I do not enjoy the luxury of pay increases so therefore no TRS increase.) TRS comes out of sub pay and Social Security comes out of my other duties. These wages are paid on the same pay check and yet I am still subject to this unfair and discriminatory law. Other public employees who pay into IMRF also pay into Social Security and they ARE NOT subject to the WEP/GPO. They can collect from both the IMRF AND Social Security without being penalized. I am told that it is because they pay into both systems at the same time. This reasoning defies logic! Congress needs to get their act together before teachers start marching and protesting!!!!

  6. I would like to see a mass type mailing from this site (SSF) where all recipients can sign and have sent each State member of Congress (House and Senate) this information. I did write to my elected reps and to President Trump (I actually received a response that he is in favor of supporting issues related to the SSA on behalf of us). That is positive. I would also encourage the SSF to send and resend info to Rep. Sam Johnson (Tx.) who chairs the Ways & Means subcommittee on SSA. I was told by the SSA that my 24 yrs. of my and my employer’s FICA taxes did not meet the 24 year rule since some of my “annual” earnings did NOT meet the annual threshold. Now it is 18 yrs by some unpublished SSA manual. Another “gotcha.” Where did the 30 year rule come from? I stand to lose in the neighborhood of $500/mo. How about somebody explaining to me why my money that has earned the SSA investment income is not mine and why my limited retirement benefit is a “Windfall” when the SSA is willing to give my funds to undocumented illegal immigrants and whoever else has not earned any funding. This is pure straight forward theft. Will Congressional people who get a life time annual salary even after leaving office have their prior SSA taxes be reduced as a Windfall? This should be a SSF rally call given the current political climate to reform tax code and expand income for this country’s citizens. Is SSF willing to take the seriousness of this and bring this issue to light with the Ways & Means and potentially Senate. It is do or die time.

  7. I retired in 1998 as an Ohio police officer. I filed to get my Soc. Sec. benefit in 2016 and the lady at Soc. Sec. told me, in a nice way, that my benefit would be reduced. I was aware that it would be and I had promised my wife that I would behave and as nice as I could muster replied “yeah”. Since I had just enough quarters for working my earlier years I was supposed to get $199.00/month. I am currently receiving $48.50/month (reduced by Medicare, taxes, & WEP).
    My wife was working for a local school system covered by SERS. She filed at the same time but since she was working she was able to get her full amount per month of $750.50. She retired on 12/31/17 and the kind people at Soc. Sec. sent her a 6 page letter essentially telling her that she was overpaid in Jan. 2018 and she must repay $389.00. Her monthly Soc. Sec. benefit was reduced to $359.70/month.
    We both worked hard and contributed to the Social Security system as required by law for all of those years and now we are being penalized just because we made the unfortunate choice of working for an employer that had an Ohio state funded pension plan. But, had we been an invading undocumented alien we would be able to get much more that both of our benefits added together. That’s American way, screw the legal citizens and take care of the invaders.

  8. Back in the early 2000’s myself and about 18 other local law enforcement retirees met with Mr. Pat Tiberi, our district State Rep. to the US Congress. He kindly told us pretty much what we wanted to hear. The same system was affecting his retired school employee parents by reducing their Social Security benefits. He said that this affected him personally because of his parents and that when he returned to Washington DC he was going to make it his number one project to get the WEP and GPO repealed.
    Every year I emailed Mr. Tiberi to remind him of what he told us. In January 2018 the so & so #*&@ resigned from congress without doing what he told us that he was going to do. All of the other retiree officers have passed on but I’m still here and I’m still waiting.

  9. I only worked for 10 years, as a Nurse for Commonwealth of MA. I started working at 16. I worked until 65. I have all the quarters. I knew about WEP but figured since I only did not pay for 10 years. I also received the amount I would receive from SS letter sent yearly. I found out later that I did not pay a significant enough amount for the almost 40 years paid. The effect this had on me, my spouse is such a surprise. I still do not understand how they figured out how much a person should earn a year. Women especially who had children, worked part-time. Really bothered me to still work and have to pay when I knew I wouldn’t get more back. Very unfair. Ronald Regan started this. Needs updating. My mother never worked and got more. ??? and my Dads.???

  10. I worked for County of Los Angeles 40 years and paid into social security earning 34 quarters, because the county of Los Angeles withdrew their employees from paying into Social Security, I don’t have enough quarters to draw from social security. When I retired in 2015 my pension was reduced by $340 due to the Windfall Elimination Provision, unfair, unethical, ridiculous, this WEP needs to go away permanently!!! I’m being punished because I didn’t earn enough quarters,?yet I don’t qualify to draw from Social Security? I still paid into social security from 1975 to 1981, where did that money go? I didn’t qualify do draw on my ex-husbands social security either. Joke

  11. I am an RN that has worked for the VA for 37 years, also second jobs, to provide for my family, only to be told that I will receive HALF of my SS benefit when I retire!
    How is that fair?

    That is money that I have paid in…

  12. my husband paid into Social Security for almost 40 years. I paid into Social Security for almost 20 years and then started work for L A County Sheriff Department. For thirty -one years my husband work for USPS and after 4 months his pension plan changed and he was put in the FERS plan where he paid Social Security. Even though his health was poor, he continued working until age 62 so he could receive Social Security. He received 3 checks from Social Security before he unexpectedly passed away at age 62. I am not entitled to spousal benefits due to GPO on my working years with Sheriff Department. My Social Security that I paid into has been reduced due to WEP.
    Between the two of these unfair decisions, I lose over $2,000 a month. I am able to pay my bills, but repairs on an old house and car but it’s a struggle. As far as I am concerned particularly on GPO this is theft. According to my husband 2015 statement he had paid over $100,000 into Social Security. He did in January 2016 so collected three checks. This is so unfair, it’s robbery.

  13. The windfall elimination tax and government pension offset provision are totally unfair to hard working Americans who have put their time into both systems and should receive payment in full for both. I am an Ohio resident and this will affect me and many other people I know. I am fearful of the number of people who work their whole life expecting to get full social security benefits only to be totally surprised when they find out that they will not when they learn about these two provisions when it is time to retire. It is a total shame.

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