Repeal the WEP/GPO.

The National Education Association’s position on the WEP/GPO couldn’t be clearer. They want full repeal of both pension provisions and so do I.

The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the earned Social Security benefit of those of us in over a dozen states who are members of a public pension system like Illinois’ Teacher Retirement System.

The Government Pension Offset (GPO) denies spousal death benefits to a spouse who is a member of a pension system like TRS.

I got my first Social Security card at 12. My first job that I paid into the system I got when I was 16. My last deduction was when I was 38. I paid 6% of my income into Social Security and that was matched by my employer.

Anne paid in her entire working life.

That’s a lot of our money that the government can legally confiscate.

In an article from the NEA’s Education Votes in 2016, Angela Litvinov explains it well. Everything in it is true today except the bill numbers have changed. Every year a bill to repeal WEP/GPO gets enough co-sponsors to pass the House. It never comes to a vote.

By Amanda Litvinov

Jim Sproul was confident he had all his ducks in a row when he retired in 1997 after 29 years in education. As a long-time leader in his association and a past president of the Kentucky Education Association, he had assisted many members on their path to retirement and understood how the system works.

He was abundantly aware that two controversial laws—the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision (GPO-WEP)—could drastically reduce retirement benefits for teachers like him.

GPO reduces public employees’ Social Security spousal or survivor benefits by two-thirds of their public pension — 9 out of 10 people lose their entire spousal benefit, even if their spouse paid Social Security taxes for many years.

WEP reduces the earned Social Security benefits of an individual who also receives a public pension from a job not covered by Social Security — meaning hard-working people lose a significant portion of the benefits they have earned themselves.

But Sproul thought he would be exempt from the reduction in benefits, because he had paid into the Social Security system for the required 30 years. “Like many educators, I held second and third jobs throughout my teaching career,” Sproul explained. Unfortunately, not all of those years of Social Security-covered work met the earnings threshold.

“So imagine my shock when I handed in my paperwork to start drawing Social Security at age 65 and discovered that instead of receiving over $970 each month, I would receive only $390,” Sproul said.

Like Sproul, countless educators and other state and local employees who have dutifully served in the public sector are unfairly losing retirement benefits they or their spouses have earned because of these laws enacted in the 1970s. Finally, nearly four decades later, there are two efforts in Congress to retool or repeal GPO-WEP.

The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing Tuesday to discuss possible reforms to GPO-WEP with the intention of treating public servants more fairly. But the National Education Association has serious concerns about one of the proposals on the table—while the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (H.R.711) addresses inequities perpetuated by WEP, it leaves the GPO intact and could actually broaden its application and enforcement.

H.R.711 would replace the WEP with a new “public service fairness formula” that would take into account the years a public sector employee paid into Social Security versus the years that employee paid into a public pension system while working in a position not covered by Social Security. But there are still major problems, including that fact that employees who do not vest in a public pension plan would still have their benefits reduced. Also, those who did have 30 years of Social Security-covered earnings that meet the threshold would no longer be exempt from having their benefits reduced.

A far better proposal has already been introduced. NEA strongly supports the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R.973/S.1651), which would fully repeal both the GPO and WEP.

“No one is asking for benefits they or their spouse haven’t earned,” said Sproul. “Occasionally when I’m talking to elected leaders about situations like mine, they say they are trying to prevent ‘double dipping.’ I remind them that I spent my whole career ‘double working.’”

Sproul now works full-time at the family-owned tire store where he has been employed for 37 years. He enjoys the work, and considers himself lucky.

“I don’t think I’ll ever reach 30 years of Social Security-covered work at the required threshold,” said Sproul, “but I’ll be alright. Some folks I know are really struggling without the benefits they were counting on. Lawmakers should help them.”

17 thoughts on “Repeal the WEP/GPO.

  1. Unfortunately, Sproul, whom I know from the KEA, has been easy to dupe, as are most KY teachers. He had a chance to support the fight against pension theft here in KY, and to support me as a candidate for KEA President when I, as a so-called loose-cannon “rogue”, began filing lawsuits to stop the pension-gutting KY legislature from underfunding our pension – but he chose to stick his head in the sand. I warned him at the time of the KEA Rep Council elections that WPO would bite him AND his Colas were NOT protected by the KY contract impairment clause – but he didn’t want to hear it, and supported one of the dumbest KEA presidents the organization has ever had.

  2. The fallacy in the argument here Freddie is that you consider the SS system a pension plan, it is not, it is a tax, pure and simple.
    It is a pay as you go system (PAYG). It is not based on any actuarial basis for the system. You are paying for other entitlement programs that are not funded by the participants. Many people pay into the system and never get back what they paid. I know any number of people that will not get the $ back in benefits, let alone any earnings they would have accumulated over the years. It is a tax, you know, like obummer care.

    1. The fallacy of your tirade is that I claimed Social Security benefits were actuarially based. It is irrelevant what you call it. The issue is that those of us covered by the WEP/GPO have been singled out for arbitrary reasons denied benefits we are owed and that we otherwise would receive. Your hatred for Social Security and social programs is ideologically based and so doesn’t need to be based on actual conditions so I understand where you are coming from.

      1. A sensible solution would be to pay you Social Security in exchange for a part of your IL pension that would equal the value (including interest) of what you and your public employer would have paid as employee contributions to Social Security. THEN, if that Social Security payment is less than the IL pension attributable to your teaching years, you only get to top-up to the level of your teacher pension. That might make the insolvent pension fund last a bit longer. If you worked in employment where you and your employer paid into Social Security, then there would be a [complicated] adjustment for that. There would also have to be an adjustment for the time you drew a public pension ahead of the social security retirement age. One point would be to avoid double dipping by you and thousands of others. Another point would be to help the federal government to bail out Illinois.

        This wouldn’t be as complicated for actuaries as it would for art teachers. Nor is this a commentary about who contributes more to society.

        I’d suggest you get this done while the Dems control both houses of Congress. Few in congress (R or D) would understand this so it would likely work out well for you and once you get the money they can never get it back.

  3. Both The Government Pension Offset and the WEP will impact my family drastically. It is great news that “the NEA strongly supports the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R.973/S.1651), which would fully repeal both the GPO and WEP.”
    As a member of the AARP I years ago asked the AARP to lobby for legislation to repeal both the GPO and WEP.
    Apparently, fighting to repeal the GPO and WEP has not been a priority with the AARP.

    Legislators need to hear from us. Would you know if NEA will be providing talking points that we can use when we contact our legislators?

    Earl Shumaker

  4. Hi Fred. I am a retired teacher and follow you religiously. My Social Security situation is almost identical to yours. I have been interested in this topic for many years. What can I/we teachers who are affected by this do? Who should we contact? Thank you for all you do. Kathleen Lennon

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Thanks Kathe. Contact your congressperson. Contact union government relations. Get other retirees to do the same. repeat.

  5. Sample email

    Subject: Please work to repeal WEP and GPO

    Congressman, Senator,

    I am a retired teacher. Teaching was a second profession for me—I was a geologist before becoming a teacher. I now get a lower teacher’s pension, a lower SS benefit and if my wife dies before I do no spousal SS benefits. Every time democrats are out of power they have promised to repeal these provisions but never follow through—please do the right thing.

    “The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the earned Social Security benefit of those of us in over a dozen states who are members of a public pension system like Illinois’ Teacher Retirement System.

    The Government Pension Offset (GPO) denies spousal death benefits to a spouse who is a member of a pension system like TRS.”

    1. This letter doesn’t say whether or how this is a hardship for you or your wife. It sounds like you just want every nickel you think you are entitled to and that Congress should change a long-established law so that you can get more. I’d suggest a different approach. Moreover, you reveal the venality of politicians who make partisan promises in exchange for your vote, as if to say you now have an entitlement. Lastly you depict yourself as believing in politicians. Earl has a better approach.

      1. My earned Social Security benefit is not about hardship. And yes, because I am not an idiot I want EVERY nickel I earned. How long-established a law is does not matter. My savings were stolen.

  6. MISINFORMATION! the benefit was reduced or eliminated by due process of law. That the law was a measure intended to extend the life of the Social Security system which, as you know is in difficulty as a result of demographics and other factors. My benefits were reduced when the law raised the age for unreduced benefits. Your net income will be reduced if and when Illinois starts taxing retirement benefits. There is no “contract right” to expectations that get frustrated when laws get amended.

    Savings? Some lying liar once lied to you about a lock box.

    “Steal” means to take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right. I suppose free speech and the privilege of web hyperbole would entitle you to say you were (and continue to be) robbed, raped, screwed and crucified … and call it artistic license. But there may be some English teachers out there who can be inflamed by force of argument rather than exaggeration.

    Nevertheless, it’s good that you let me pedantically pontificate from time to time.

  7. The WEP repeal needs to be attached to the reconciliation bill for it to pass. Stand-alone WEP repeal bills have been introduced and then died in committee for the last ten years. Kevin Brady….Ted Cruz…Richard Neal…Are you listening??

  8. I don’t know why you took down my recent post about putting WEP repeal in the reconciliation bill now being considered and debated. Obviously stand-alone WEP repeal bills are not working. I can remember when I first retired from the USPS 11 years ago WEP repeal bills being introduced that year and every year since, only to die in committee.
    I assume you want this WEP repeal to happen within our lifetimes.

  9. I had posted something similar earlier today, but it never appeared.

    Anyway, I know that we are all allies in this long struggle to undo this legal theft of our Social Security benefits.

    But I’m so tired of seeing bills being proposed only to wind up going nowhere.

    Maybe if they added it to the big 3.5 T bill now being debated it would be finally passed.

  10. Both the WEP and the GPO are unfair. Especially the WEP. It’s an EARNED benefit proportional to what I put in. Very simple really. It’s THEFT to keep this law in place for an EARNED benefit.
    The GPO is also unfair because it treats public servants differently than the rest of the population by virtue of an EARNED pension for PUBLIC SERVICE.

  11. Retired at 65, divorced in later years, paid into SS 21 years a pension of only 10 years, I got 230 the first check , today 8 yrs. later I get 230. Never changes, A pension that was 850 when I retired! I was sick, could not get ex husband SS because of Gov. offset, so I found myself in Poverty after using so much of my salary on kids (art teacher ) and put 2 sons through college! I thought I would get around 1900 from SS. Wrote letters, visited office , no help, went through all my savings, pay a Mtg. Still of 688 a month, now I find my self stressed, no life ins. Can,t afford, it, no 401 K.
    No money for that, and no savings! All gone and year after year I write I call my congressmen and senators and nothing! Repeal the dam unfair Bill, the house and senate should be under the same rule but exempt, there are not words I feel now with arthritis and Mag. degenerate in my left eye, I feel hopeless and angry!

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