Q. I worked and paid into Social Security for about 20 years. For the following nineteen years I served as a teacher and I did not pay into Social Security. When I applied for my social security, I was told I would receive only $140 per month. Further, I would not receive any benefit from my husband’s social security since I did not contribute to Social Security while I was a teacher. As I see it, I am being penalized for teaching children for 19 years. Do you agree that an injustice has been done? Can you help me in any way?
A. Social Security has a number of offsets reducing monthly Social Security benefits for persons also receiving an annuity from employment not covered by Social Security. You are affected by two of them: the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision.
The Government Pension Offset became law in December 1977. The rationale given for the change was it made Social Security spousal benefits comparable for couples whether both worked under Social Security or one worked in Social Security employment and the other in non-covered government employment. When both husband and wife work in Social Security employment, each is eligible for whichever is greater – his or her own benefit or a spouse or widow(er) benefit based on the other spouse’s Social Security earnings record.
A problem with the Government Pension Offset is that in countless cases, the offset far exceeds the reduction that would occur if the husband and wife each had the same lifetime earnings, but solely in Social Security employment. This is particularly true with a mixed public and private career. Your spousal benefits are offset first by your own Social Security and the balance, if any, by two-thirds of your government annuity.
The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) of the 1983 Social Security Amendments deepens the lifetime benefit loss for the lower earning member of the couple if he or she had a mixed work career. WEP reduces a personal Social Security benefit for anyone who also has earned an annuity from non-Social Security employment. If you are receiving $140 a month, you are receiving 44.5 percent of the benefit you would be entitled to receive had you not also earned a non-Social Security annuity.
Your situation powerfully illustrates the unfairness of these two provisions. That’s why the National Committee believes that the Congress should reconsider them, either by eliminating them outright or by modifying to make them less burdensome on those who are affected by them.
The Social Security Administration web site has extensive information about anti-windfall provisions. See http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10007.html , http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10045.html#amount , and http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/anyPiaWepjs04.htm .