Another dirty little secret about teachers and Social Security and how we’re punished.

A teacher colleague who I worked with for 15 years retired a few years ago. Last night she sent me an email with a question. 

She said she was telling a friend that if her husband died before her, as a teacher in the Teacher Retirement System, she received no Social Security spousal benefit. Her friend didn’t believe her and she was checking with me. I told her she was correct. 

If she died before him, he could collect half her teacher pension benefit but she got nothing from his Social Security if he died before her. 

This is one of those dirty little secrets about how teachers in a dozen or so states are punished by a federal pair of laws known as WEP/GPO. 

Let’s take my case. I worked in the private sector 20 years before teaching and paid into Social Security. But based on some formula, my Social Security benefit is reduced so that it barely covers my Medicare bill (in case you thought Medicare was free). And I am denied any of Anne’s Social Security benefits should she die before me, which I would receive if I wasn’t an Illinois teacher in a pension system. 

Ask your congressional rep and senators to explain it and why they have refused to change this punitive law. 

They won’t tell me. Maybe they will tell you.

12 thoughts on “Another dirty little secret about teachers and Social Security and how we’re punished.

  1. This is something that has always confused me. I worked in the restaurant business from my teens to early 30’s and paid into social security. I didn’t start teaching until I was 32. I can’t figure out why the mere fact that I changed careers takes away from the money I contributed all those years.

  2. Fred, my husband passed away last August. He was a retired university Dean, paid into TRS-GA, paid into SS. When he retired, he received TRS & SS $ monthly. I retired as a 40 public school educator. I receive TRS & I am NOT ELIGIBLE TO ANY OF MY HUSBAND’S SS BENEFITS. I communicated with GA SS office and SS office in NY…waited for t months, only to be told that I am not eligible for my husband’s SS $.
    I don’t understand how a National SS Program have such different rules in different states. They keep telling me that I have my own retirement, TRS. So do millions of educators in many other states who still receive their deceased spouse’s benefits.
    They do it because it has a,ways been done that way!?
    What is the origin of such different procedures?
    Very frustrating.
    Thanks for listening.
    Hanna Hurley
    ATL, GA

  3. I have been writing to my various federal senators and reps about this for the past 15 years…..after I learned how negatively these Social Security rules impacted me. In Illinois, the “handlers” that respond say that the bill for change cannot get enough votes to be advanced to the floor for a full vote. They always point out that my legislators have signed on to support the change, and a big nothing ever happens after that. A big nothing burger to our legislators. A sad state of affairs.

  4. Why don’t you go a step further and tell how those of us who retired before, whatever cutoff month in 2004, and are not married, can’t get Medicare part A like everybody else. And if you don’t choose to pay for part A, if you just pay for TRIP, (Aetna) you are probably paying a fortune for health care insurance. I am. You can always choose the cheaper HMO plan. There is no winning this game.

    PS Perhaps you remember Jeri Shanahan, who we lost last year. She and I were. friends from the same district. It wouldn’t surprise me if her ignored major efforts to get this changed contributed to her death.

    PPS. Remember that it was NEVER a choice, whether we wanted to pay into Social Security. And Medicare was just starting up when I entered the professional workforce. Nobody realized where this was leading. At least none of us did.

    1. Thank you. I have written about it and Jeri often. I posted her last voice mail message to me a week before she died. I am so glad you brought this injustice up again.

  5. KY is one of those states, too. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul won’t touch the WEP/GPO. So KY teachers are looking at a pension funded at 35%, and they are penalized in their Social Security benefits. “Thanks for all you do.” they tell us.

  6. Fred I am afraid I have to disagree here. If you want pay outs *from* the system, you need to pay _in_ to the system. The carve out is on solid moral grounds here. Schools and some state governments didn’t want to pay OASDI and they got what they wanted.

    Note that for Tier II teachers in Illinois that same carve out law will later step in when TRS fails to pay at least what OASDI would at retirement.

    If you want to change the system, you need to change how the state and school districts participate.

    For the record, as a retired military officer, I carefully chose where to teach and chose a school that _does_ pay into OASDI to preserve the years I paid OASDI before I started teaching. My social security will be 80% taxable once I collect it.

    1. Jason,
      But I did pay into the Social Security System for over 20 years before I became a teacher. That is the money that has been stolen from me. I not only do not receive my earned benefit, I don’t even get back what I and my employers paid in. That is straight up theft. And there is no reasonable justification for teachers in state pension systems to be denied Social Security spousal benefits. Nobody is suggesting that those who paid nothing into Social Security should receive the benefit, although a system of universal income should be on the table.

  7. What other professions are having to forfeit their SS benefits? Could it be related to the long history of discrimination toward women, who make up the highest % of the teaching profession? Thought about, not long ago, when women didn’t qualify for husband’s military pensions….forgot the woman in Congress who was instrumental of fighting & winning that benefit for widows.

  8. Fred, both my husband and I spend 30+ years (husband 43 years) contributing to SS. He also was a part-time instructor at the local community college and enrolled in SURS (He’s Tier 1) Now he’s working a lower-paying state job and will qualify fir a pension. I’m looking at trying to work another 3 years before retiring (I’m also Tier 1).

    Long story short, I’m afraid we’re going to lose most of our SS $$$, even though we paid into it for decades.

    1. I’m not an expert on the fine points of the impact of WEP/GPO. You should consult with a professional.

  9. I paid into SS for 12 years before entering teaching, earned more than my 40 quarters, and I will be penalized 40% of my earned benefits. How is that not theft?

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