Q. I’m 68 years old. I retired from Civil Service in 1999. I’m married and have an ex-husband, now deceased. I was told I cannot receive Social Security because I haven’t enough quarters and I can’t get either of my husbands’ benefits because of the offset proposed by President Reagan in the 80’s or whenever. I understand about people being double dippers on government checks but shouldn’t there be, or is there a limited amount of money they can receive? I’ve been working for the past 3 years, what will happen to the monies I’ve paid in since I’ve been working?

A. The Social Security Act’s Government Pension Offset provision became law in December 1977 but for most women did not become effective until December 1982.

The rationale given for the 1977 amendment was that 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. Both benefits are not payable.

If you earn 40 Social Security work credits you will be eligible for a Social Security retirement benefit. However, a separate provision of law known as the Windfall Elimination Provision means your Social Security benefit will be determined by a separate, lower benefit formula because you receive a pension from non-Social Security employment.

An overview of both provisions can be found at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/gpo-wep/ . More detailed information about the Government Pension Offset can be found at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10007.html . Detailed information about the Windfall Elimination Provision is on line at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10045.html and http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/anyPiaWepjs04.htm .