The Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision deny earned Social Security benefits to more than 1.5 million Americans, mostly women. They were designed to cut costs for Soc. Sec. and were hastily voted into law without careful study. This has resulted in the formulas that they use for persons who have earned pensions from non-SS covered government jobs being more punitive than the SS measures that they were supposed to replicate. The S.S. benefits were earned in work not related to their government work, or by being a dependent spouse. These govt. pensions were earned and are taxed differently by the Federal government. There is no valid reason for linking them to Social Security. See "More Info" on SSFairness.com for references to CRS and NCPSSM reports.
Response to Petition
By Carolyn W. Colvin
GPO reduces the Social Security benefits payable to certain people who qualify for Social Security benefits as spouses or surviving spouses. WEP reduces benefits payable to certain people who receive Social Security benefits as retired or disabled workers.
In general, the intent of these two provisions was to address inequities in the Social Security law that advantaged people who spent portions of their careers in employment not covered by Social Security -- and therefore were not paying taxes into Social Security -- compared to people who spent their entire careers in work covered by Social Security.
Under the GPO provision of the Social Security law, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will reduce a person's Social Security spouse's or surviving spouse's benefit by two-thirds of any government pension the person receives based on his or her own work in Federal, state, or local employment not covered by Social Security.
The GPO provision ensures that government workers are treated the same way as other workers. Before Congress enacted GPO in 1977, a person who worked in a government job not covered under Social Security could receive a full Social Security spouse's or surviving spouse's benefit in addition to a government pension based on his or her own earnings. A person who works in a job covered under Social Security, in contrast, is subject to the dual entitlement provision. This provision, applied since 1940, requires Social Security to reduce benefits payable to a person as a spouse or surviving spouse by the amount of that person's own Social Security worker's benefit.
Congress intended the dual entitlement provision to restrict the payment of Social Security spouse's and surviving spouse's benefits to those family members who are actually dependent on the worker. GPO replicates the dual entitlement provision for workers receiving a government pension based on work not covered under Social Security because, if that work had been covered, the dual entitlement provision would have reduced any spouse's or surviving spouse's benefit by the person's own Social Security benefit.
WEP reduces the Social Security benefits payable to a retired or disabled worker if the worker receives a pension based on work not covered by Social Security. Congress enacted WEP into law in 1983 to eliminate an unintended advantage that workers who spent a substantial portion of their careers in employment not covered by Social Security -- and not paying taxes into the system -- had compared to workers who spent their entire careers in employment subject to Social Security payroll taxes.
To better understand the reason for WEP, it is useful to consider how people who spent a portion of their careers in employment not covered by Social Security received an advantage under the Social Security benefit formula before Congress enacted WEP. SSA determines benefit amounts under a weighted formula that gives proportionately higher benefits to workers with low lifetime earnings. However, SSA computes lifetime earnings using only earnings covered under Social Security. Therefore, a worker with a substantial period of work not covered by Social Security appears to have lower lifetime earnings than he or she actually had. Prior to WEP, Social Security gave such workers the advantage of the weighted benefit formula, even though they had substantial amounts of earnings not covered by Social Security and were receiving a pension based on those earnings. WEP prevents such workers from inappropriately receiving this advantage.
In addition to considering the issue of fairness, there are costs associated with changing these provisions. While the elimination of GPO and WEP would result in some administrative savings, it would also cost the Social Security program over $80 billion in the first 10 years and increase the long-range deficit of the Social Security program.
Carolyn W. Colvin is Deputy Commissioner of Social Security