Social Security’s “massive rip-off”

Become a teacher — and lose the Social Security benefits you paid for while holding other jobs!

A good recruiting slogan it’s not.

But a pair of three-decade-old federal laws, aimed at preventing “double-dipping” in government pensions, are penalizing some Californians who take public service jobs in teaching, firefighting and law enforcement.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who has been trying to get the federal laws repealed, estimated two years ago that the penalty could affect nearly one million persons nationwide, about 200,000 in California.

It’s called a “heroes’ penalty” by Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch. He is carrying yet another resolution in the California Legislature, AJR 10, urging Congress to repeal the penalty.

“This comes under a couple of possible labels,” Torlakson told an Assembly committee last month. “It would be a ‘Catch 22’ or it would be a massive rip-off.”

Torlakson told a Senate committee this week about Margaret “Peg” Cagle, a “wonderful, brilliant architect” who paid into Social Security for two decades before becoming a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Cagle became an outstanding math teacher. Among her awards: LAUSD Teacher of the Year; the USA Today All-USA Teacher Team; and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math & Science Teaching.

“She went to retire and found out she had lost about half of her Social Security because she was in STRS (the California State Teachers Retirement System),” said Torlakson.

In another example, said Torlakson, a woman whose husband died could have begun receiving about half of her husband’s $1,600 a month Social Security payment. But she was a member of CalSTRS.

“When she went in to reconcile she was surprised to learn she would only get a $225 death benefit to bury her husband,” Torlakson said.

As an Assembly committee heard Torlakson’s resolution last month, Rhoda McFarland of Sacramento told how she had taught for 25 years before working for 15 years in other public service jobs, this time paying into Social Security.

“When I got ready to get my Social Security, I was told I couldn’t have the whole thing because I had taught in California,” she said, which forced her to continue working and delay retirement until five years ago.

McFarland said it took her two years and four trips to a Social Security office to learn that her payment of $272 a month ($185 after a Medicare payment) would have been $568 if she hadn’t been a teacher.

“Even though I paid what someone else paid I’m told you can’t have it because you taught in California,” she said. “It’s so devastating to feel that way. I could not believe it.”

In a survey of its members last year, CalSTRS found that many are unaware of the penalty or “offset,” as it is formally called. About 32 percent of active members expected to have between 10 and 30 years of Social Security credits.

The survey found that 29 percent of those with Social Security credits were unaware of the income offset. In addition, 44 percent of active members were unaware of the spousal benefits offset.

A law that took effect in 2005 requires employers not covered by Social Security to tell new hires about the offsets. And the new hires are required to sign a statement saying they are aware of possible reductions in their Social Security benefits.

“Until recently, many educators were told they would not be affected by these penalties when they retired,” Dave Walrath, a lobbyist for the California Retired Teachers Association told the Senate committee.

“But when they did retire, when they did need the income, all of a sudden they were told, ‘No, we will penalize you. We will reduce your benefits that you paid for and earned,’” he said.

Why did Congress impose the penalties or offsets? Social Security replaces a greater percentage of the income of a lower-paid worker than of a worker who earns a higher income.

The theory is that if benefits such as CalSTRS are not counted, a higher-wage worker could be regarded as a lower-wage worker and receive a Social Security payment based on a greater percentage of the income.

In 1977, Congress passed the “government pension offset,” which reduces a spouse’s Social Security benefit by two-thirds. In some cases, such as the one cited by Torlakson, the result is that the benefit is totally eliminated.

In 1983, Congress passed the “windfall elimination provision,” designed to prevent workers from receiving higher benefits than they would if all of their earnings were covered by Social Security.

Once again legislation has been introduced in Congress to repeal these two Social Security penalties or offsets, S 484 by Feinstein and HR 235 by U.S. Rep. Howard Berman, D-Los Angeles.

A major budget problem is that repealing the two laws would be costly. Recent estimates range from $61 billion to $80 billion over the next 10 years. And Social Security is already projected to run short of money in the decades ahead.

A major political problem is that California is one of only 15 states where some or all of the public employees are not covered by Social Security. So most states, including many of the big ones, do not have a problem with the penalties or offsets.

Legislation in 1961 allowed most California state workers to coordinate their pensions through what is now the Public Employees Retirement System with pensions they receive through Social Security.

Nearly two-thirds of the 800,000 active state and local government workers in the CalPERS system are also covered by Social Security. Among those not covered by Social Security are the California Highway Patrol and state firefighters and correctional officers.

In addition to teachers, other public employees in California not covered by Social Security include judges, University of California employees, and the employees of more than 450 cities, counties and special districts.

State and local governments are in a deep fiscal crisis now. But if repeal continues to fail, California might think about avoiding the devastating impact of Social Security penalties for future public employees by putting them all under Social Security.

The current Social Security contribution rates are 6.2 percent of payroll from employees and 6.2 percent from employers. For the uncovered public employees in California, that’s a lot of money that might be welcomed by Social Security.

A CalPERS analysis of Torlakson’s resolution said that repealing the offsets “could further exacerbate” the fiscal problems of a Socail Security program projected to run out of money in about 30 years.

“In addition, the greater the funding imbalance of Social Security, the greater the likelihood that lawmakers will consider other alternatives, such as mandatory coverage of newly hired state and local public workers to shore up the program,” said the analysis.

Reporter Ed Mendel covered the Capitol in Sacramento for nearly three decades, most recently for the San Diego Union-Tribune. More stories are at Posted 25 Jun 09

81 Responses to “Social Security’s “massive rip-off””

  1. Jeff Says:

    Josh Richman’s blog had an entry about this. If you read through the comments you’ll see my criticism of news media that doesn’t explain the facts and allows politicians to exploit that lack of understanding. There are explanations from myself and another person as to the rationale behind the rules. This is opportunistic demagoguery by Feinstein and the like. I hope you will try to hold her and others accountable.

    “Rally for ‘Social Security fairness for teachers”

  2. Paul de Jung Says:

    Were was the California Teachers Association when these laws were passed?

  3. Tired of you Says:

    At one time I thought you were a balanced reporter. Clearly, that has changed, or perhaps was never the case as you now appear to be little more than a mouthpiece for civil service employees.

    It isn’t hard to understand why the “windfall elimination provision” is appropriate. But, to make it simple, SS counts 35 years of employment in computing average pay. If you work 20 years in SS-covered employment and move on to civil service, the other 35-20=15 years are averaged in with zeros bringing way down your average pay. This results in a much higher ss wage replacement ratio, as though you earned the lower average pay for the full 35 years. But you didn’t, you started a new career. You think this penalized the employee. It doesn’t. It prevents them from abusing the system.

    Start being more balanced …. or don’t call yourself a reporter.

  4. Johnathanb Says:

    Ed, Tired of you is correct. You should better understand the basis for the windfall elimination provision before calling it a social sectuirty ripoff.

    As to ripoffs, CALPENS opens supports a continuation (and often further improvement) of the generous benefits of CA workers with absolutely no consideration of the taxpayers who pay for most of these benefits and must make up for asset shortfalls. To me, that is the real ripoff, a ripoff of the state’s taxpayers.

  5. Jeff Says:

    In defense of Ed, he put “ripoff” in quotes. That means the phrase is one attributed to the advocates, not Ed. That said, there is no interest groups with a self-interested stake comparable to those government employees and the dishonest politicians who are pushing this. And it is a matter of fundamental fairness, which was why it was implemented. Under such circumstances it seems appropriate to seek comments from experts on Social Security to balance the arguments that readers are exposed to so as to increase their understanding of the issue.

  6. Ridge Runner Says:

    “Become a teacher — and lose the Social Security benefits you paid for while holding other jobs!”

    Not really. Since you are not paying SS taxes for the years you are teaching, you don’t get to count your teacher’s income for SS purposes. Whatever income you had before teaching, and paid SS taxes on, gets counted in determining your SS benefits. Too bad you can’t double dip anymore (like was possible before these adjustments were made). For the non-double dippers, seems eminently fair.

  7. Debbie says Says:

    Ridge Runner … though it seems like double dipping let me stress that your statement “Whatever income you had before teaching, and paid SS taxes on, gets counted in determining your SS benefits.” is exactly the problem.

    These teachers paid into SS while working non-teaching jobs and they AREN’T getting the SS benefits based on that work – not their teaching years but the years that they did pay into SS.

    If someone worked in a private sector job with a pension for 20 years and then a non-pension job for the other 15, that person would get his/her pension PLUS the SS benefits they paid for. But not teachers.

    I don’t see how anyone can think that’s fair.

  8. Jeff Says:

    “I don’t see how anyone can think that’s fair.”

    Because you see what you want to see instead of looking at it honestly. Follow the link in the first post and read what was written. Then come back here and post why you think it’s unfair in light of that information.

  9. Debbie says Says:

    I’ve read ALL the posts both here and on the other site… it’s unfair because the feds made the change retroactive and changed the rules after people made decisions based on the rules in place when they paid into Social Security.

    Here’s a different example … let’s say I played baseball for three innings and hit an RBI and my team was even with the opponents. I left after three innings under the belief the run would still be counted. After the game was over the umpire decided that only runs produced by people who had played all nine innings would count.

    Would that be fair? Since when do we support changing the rules after the players have followed the rules? If the WEP/GPO had been made for new employees hired in Social Security after 1986, that would be a different matter but they were applied to people after the person left Social Security.

  10. Jeff Says:

    It’s not a game. It’s the distribution of limited pot of money that already isn’t adequate to meet the existing obligation among those who paid and still pay into the system. Removing a unearned windfall that must come out of the pockets of those who get no such windfalls serves the cause of fairness more than preserving that unearned windfall because of the claim that people supposedly planned to get those unearned windfalls.

  11. Jonny be good Says:

    Quoting … “….. Removing a unearned windfall that must come out of the pockets of those who get no such windfalls serves the cause of fairness more than preserving that unearned windfall because of the claim that people supposedly planned to get those unearned windfalls.”

    Excellent comment … and this same logic explains why pension formulas for current Civil Servants should be reduced for future years of service. Politicians are so scared of losing union support that they only suggest pension formula reductions for new civil servants. Changing formulas for new employees will save nothing for 25+ years. We need that savings today.

    Granted that reducing benefits for past years of service seems unfair, but with everyone (except civil servants) agreeing that the current civil service pension formulas are too generous and unsustainable, why should the financial pain be further increased by continuing this excess for future years of service ???

    It shouldn’t … !

  12. soni Says:

    as far as I can tell my Social Security benefit will be reduced from four-hundred and some odd dollars to $56 a month with WEP. Not much considering how much I paid into Social Security.

    Maybe WEP is good to keep the richer Admin from double dipping, but for part-time teachers who have low pensions and SS benefits (due to single parenthood) it really will be stripping some much needed money.

  13. carrierpigeon Says:

    soni and Debbie, you won’t scratch the surface of the whiners on here with logic or morality. Logic and morality says if you make a set of rules and someone follows the rules, you have to comply with the promises you made. The dim wits that post here whining about public employee benefit plans that were designed and implemented with zero complaints over the years suddenly is idiotic and unsustainable. These ‘neo-econs’ have no problem underpaying public servants and using pensions to bridge the gaps when everyone else is making money hand over fist and stuffing their retirements month after month. But let the economy dip and you won’t hear them calling for shutting their police patrols down or leaving their kids without educators. You won’t hear them begging to close their fire station or turning off the electricity to the signal light at their intersection, but by God, watch and see if they won’t renege on the benefits package that they held out there to get you to WORK those years at substandard pay. Yeah, the people who want you to give up your SS benefits that you would be entitled to if you had made different career decisions don’t seem to want to boost your pay retroactively to what it should have been when they were LURING you with those benefits. These blogs are chock full of people who are immoral and self serving. Period. When you mind the business of making their lives safe and educating their most prized entities for ridiculously low wages where often you have to commute long distances to serve those populations because your wages will in no wise support your actually residing in your area of employ, these whiners have no problem with that. But when you’re wiping their kids nose, educating them, putting that pesky fire out in their attic, mopping up that disturbing hazardous material spill over on the railroad, or wrestling some meth head with a knife, their paying you substandard wages and making it appealing by promising to put part of the difference toward a very desirable retirement seems completely logical and desirable to them. To those citizens I say STFU and pay your bills. When you get ready to change the commitments you made to me 20 years ago then file the paperwork, declare bankruptcy, close the departments down and teach your own damn kids, clean up your own damn railroads, cardiovert your own damn arrhythmias, vest up and wade into the crime infested crack house your own damned self, and I’ll gladly go about competing for your job just like I did for this one.

  14. Jeff Says:

    If people don’t want to be subject to WEP and the GPO, then they ought to be able to pay Social Security the net present value of all the taxes that would have been collected had they been in the system when they weren’t. Then their benefits could be calculated on all their income, just like everyone else.

  15. Bev Says:

    I agree with Ed that this is a ripoff. I work for a school as a secretary and also have worked 4o years in the public sector. I am also a widow. I checked with social security and cannot receive the widows pension because i make to much money and am a school employee. I have only worked part time in public sector and did not make substantial earnings to cover the credits. Out of 40 years, I have a total of 6 substantial years of earning. This is not right.

  16. Jeff Says:

    Bev, it wasn’t Ed who termed it a “ripoff.” I can’t understand your case from what you wrote. But according to the SSA, your survivors benefit is reduced by 2/3’s of the amount of your government pension that came from work where you weren’t part of the Social Security system.

    For those in the system, “The law has always required that a person’s benefit as a spouse, widow or widower be offset dollar for dollar by the amount of his or her own retirement benefit.” The purpose of the GPO is to bring the treatment of government employees who are ought of the system with those who are in it.

  17. Rob Says:

    I PAID into social security for twenty years before I became a teacher. I will recieve less teacher retirement than the teachers that started teaching right out of college… but I can’t get the social security I PAID for????

    Screw that!

  18. Camilla Berger Says:

    I was widowed after 31 years of marriage, 26 of which I stayed home to raise 4 children and look after a mother-in-law. I received no “child are credits.” Before marriage and along the way I earned a minimum SS on my own meagre minimum wage SS record. When my husband died I went to work at a public non-ss covered job and worked 18.9 years. When I retired at age 70, my modest pension (38% of my salary) caused me to lose ALL of my widow’s benefit, leaving me with only a SS benefit of $144 on my own record under the WEP. But if my husband had not died, and I did at 70 he would have collected a pension on my record and still kept HIS SS. Where is my compensation for my 26 years of child raising? Isn’t that what a spousal benefit is about?

  19. denver Says:

    I worked for 39 years, paid into SS for the first 15. As I figure it, my SS gets reduced to ZERO due to my pension coming partly from wages that did not have a SS deduction. Is there a maximum that WEP reduces SS ??

  20. Francis J. Gianotti Says:

    How do we get the full benefits for all of those jobs we needed to survive when we were young. Now receiving a very meager teachers pension and being penalized 50% of a very,very meager social security pension which I worked so hard to obtain. What a rip off. I took ss at 62 expecting not to live past 65 with cancer.

  21. Donna Smitha Says:

    Get this folks:

    I am a former federal worker (CSRS) who worked for 14 years in the private sector before being federal. AND, now,as a state worker, I am fully paying my share of social security taxes (last five years) only to find out that when I retire I will receive the grand total of $275 per month, whilst having $225.00 per month taken out for Social Security.

    Sure helps to be a law abiding legal American citizen, huh?

    Think we can get this crazy law repealed?

  22. Miguel Mitchell Says:

    Rhoda McFarland was my teacher. I still remember how the blackboard looked when she taught us about Classical music within classical music, that’s it, one is a subset of the other. Whenever I think of the segueway between the Classical and Romantic periods, I think of her blackboard and how the light shone on it.

  23. mary Says:

    You were rearing children for 26 years? Give me a break. You were living the life of luxury and expecting other people to pay for it.

    The spousal benefit rewards marriage and nothing else. A married mom whose husband dies young has to go out and earn her own Social Security. A married mom of four whose husband makes $50,000 will get less Social Security than a married mom of one child whose husband makes $100,000. So no, the benefit is not about child-rearing.

    The public workers can’t make the argument that they are owed what they think they earned in Social Security AND what they didn’t earn but think they deserve just because they married someone who paid the taxes. Single people and two-income couples shouldn’t have to subsidize the lifestyle choices of couples who can afford to keep one partner out of the work force.

    Plus, I bet you did some under-the-table stuff all those years and never paid taxes on the income. Why would you when you know you can freeload off hard workers just by being married?

  24. Jeff Says:

    My understanding is that SS benefits are based on your SS earnings. So if SS retirement benefit calculation is solely based on the non-teaching earnings, why shouldn’t an individual be entitled to the legitimately earned benefits? The benefit is lost after-the-fact when taking a teaching position? Or in my case, my wife is a teacher who also continues to work a part-time job in addition to her teaching position. Based on this limited income, her last SS statement showed her retirement benefit estimate to be $206/month at age 62.

    Now consider her incomes individually. If she ONLY worked her part-time job, she’d receive $206 at retirement. On the other hand, if she ONLY worked as a teacher, she’d receive only receive her pension. But if she does both, her SS benefit gets docked? Retroactively? I could understand if she received a “windfall” benefit by working both jobs, but that is not the case. Basically, if you become a teacher you lose formerly earned benefit, but if you become a stay at home spouse you receive the full SS paycheck? If this is the case, shouldn’t a teacher be eligible to at least get their SS contributions refunded? Or in my wife’s case, shouldn’t she be able to opt-out of SS deductions from her part-time employment since she will not receive benefits later?

  25. Confused and Concerned Says:

    Is anyone considering the SS benefit amount shown on the annual SS statement of benefits is based on the assumption the employee will continue to earn the same annual SS covered wages until the age of retirement? So if I receive a statement at age 45 saying I will receive $700 in SS benefits and then stop working or begin earning non SS covered wages, the SS benefit amount will, naturally be substantially less. The arguments above on either side of this argument don’t seem to address this fact.
    The formula of exactly how WEP is applied is at the above link. That information read, it seems that these arguments either don’t hold water, are leaving out critical details, or Social Security is already violating laws. If the latter is true, perhaps we should be worried about accountability rather than more laws or the repeal of laws.

    Of course, I am concerned because I am State employee covered by CalPers but still paying social security. If I stay at this place of employment until retirement, I will have 20 years in civil service and more than 20 years in the private sector.

  26. Charlotte D'Aiuto Says:

    Reading some of these entries are scary. Did you ever hear of divide and conquer?

    I worked as a per diem for several years in a school district not knowing that contributions were not being made to Social Security. Later I was hired full time at another district and contributing to Social Security as well as a state pension. I am a victim, yes victim of WEP crime. If a private insurance company pulled this off it would be considered a crime and the perpetrators punished. Let’s face it; if you put money in for a number of years that’s the amount you should pull out, with no deductions for the pension. People who have several careers and contribute to several private pension systems are not penalized by one or other of the systems.

    As far as widows deserving their husband’s benefits, they are entitled. The system is “Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance.” While married the deductions came out of paychecks, which supported the household. Think of it in terms of insurance. Mary, I don’t think it is fair to judge why a woman stays home, there are many stay at home moms who work harder than some high ranking figureheads with paychecks that match the size of their titles. I don’t think Camilla and her husband were living the life of luxury on one paycheck, raising 4 children and caring for a mother-in-law. And to suggest she was doing something illegal shows what little regard you have for someone you feel doesn’t deserve benefits. Tell me do you think people who are out on permanent disability don’t deserve it either because they didn’t contribute fully? This is what the Social Security System is, a guarantee of money at a time when you need to depend on it.

    The rules where changed in the middle of the game and the majority of the people were not notified until they went to their local SS office shortly before retirement and were shocked to find out. I think the best way to describe WEP and GPO are: putting money into two banks but being told you can’t make the interest your are entitled to in both banks you have to be penalized

  27. mary young Says:

    for all of you who say wep and gpo is a good thing….i put 20 years into paying social security. i am now a teacher. if i teach until i am 62 i will have 12 year in. please tell me how it is fair that my social security is gone and you expect me to live on 12 year pension of about 300 dollars a month? do you understand now that not everyone becomes a teacher at 20 years old??? do you see how i dont know how i will live? i was not told about wep or gpo when hired or going to school. i am single. how will i survive? give me my social security!!!!

  28. Paul Says:

    One thing related to this subject, that causes a lot of loss of income, is taking full benefits, and not insuring the surving spouse. People very stupidly figure when they are going to die. When it it does not happen that way, if full benefits are taken, the surviving spouse gets nothing. Seen it happen over and over, done by people who should know better.

  29. Gary Says:

    If teachers paid into SS, which they do not, presumably they would
    receive SS benefits if otherwise qualified but their benefits might be
    reduced. One solution would be to allow California teachers to pay into SS. This would, however, encourage “double dipping.” But there now are far more double dippers+ than most people realize. Incidentally non teaching school employees (classified) do pay into SS. Military receives an SS pension and a military pension when qualified and do pay into SS.

  30. Pat Says:

    I have taught all over the country for 40 years. I have been in Nevada for 12. Although I paid into Social Security for many years, my years in Nevada will prevent me from drawing full benefits. My husband retired from Alaska as an administrator, which didn’t take out S.S. contributions, but had 30 years of substantial contributions in other years, so got full benefits. There has been no mention of that thirty years exemption. If you pay in for a full 30 years, you don’t have to worry about WEP.

  31. Paul de Jung Says:

    I hope that all realize that SS has been hijacked by BOTH Republicans and Democrats. Never mind the taking of contributions of those who paid, money taken out for other programs, easy give aways, such as SSI, etc, have taken far more. Drop your membership in either of these corrupt political groups. They deserve nothing, even our names, from those who once supported them. One good benefit in California is a choice when voting in primary elections. Lets stop the finger pointing game of Bush did it, Obama did it, they all did it. If a politician cannot keep promises they need to be one term only. Here is something that was just sent about the problem that we all have.

    Congressional Reform Act of 2011

    1. Term Limits. 12 years only, one of the possible options below..

    A… Two Six-year Senate terms

    B… Six Two-year House terms

    C. One Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms

    2. No Tenure / No Pension.

    A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

    3… Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.

    All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.

    4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

    5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise only by the CPI.

    6… Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

    7… Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

    8. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective upon ratification.

    The American people did not make these contracts with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

    If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S.) to receive the message. Maybe it is time.

    THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS!!!!! If you agree with the above, pass it on. If not, just delete

    Never give in. Never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

    Sir Winston Churchill

  32. Mike Seymour Says:

    I WANTED TO TEACH, spent 20 years in private sector went back to school to get my credential, I cannot teach because I lose my 1880 SSI and would only get 300 teachers pension if I taught. My wife lost her SSI, that is how I found out about this rip off- I would have taught science but cannot afford to help others and lose my SSI like my wife did. This stinks and no matter what the cost is wrong wrong wrong, Yes the system is already overloaded but that does not make this wrong right or justify it in any way shape or form. We gave up half of our retirement income so my wife could teach at lousy pay for your kids and you don’t appreciate it anyway.

  33. jskdn Says:

    A 3-year old discussion continues. Mike, SSI stands Supplemental Security Income and it doesn’t pay $1800. You might be able to pay the Social Security tax on your teaching income yourself. You would have to pay both employer and employee parts of the tax, 12.4% in total, but then you wouldn’t have any earnings that were outside of the Social Security system, which is what triggers these provisions.

  34. nettie Says:

    a friend suggested i collect SS now at 63 while not yet retired and still paying into STRS in California…is that possible???

  35. Shyrl Smiley Says:

    I was not notified I was losing anything until I contacted Social Security at the time of retirement. I paid into social security for over 30 years. I still lost out because I became a teacher and taught for over 13 years. As a woman working I was paid $0.60 on the $1.00 of what a man was paid while under social security. I was penalized for taking off to have our child. No one disclosed to me that I would lose my social security if I became a teacher. When my husband and I retired, we had to pay our own medical because it was not a benefit of being a teacher. With medicare, the social security I receive, barely covers my medical supplement. The only thing that saves me is that I retired with no bills or house payment. How much longer that will be only god knows. I’m tired of being screwed by my government and having politicians make rules that allow them to determine their salaries, medical coverage, and deny me what I was promised when I started working back in the late 1950s.

  36. Janelle Says:

    Teachers are not paying into social security while they’re working, so they should not get it. Their pensions are quite high, much higher than an average worker’s pensions are. Many regular people don’t even get a pension, and especially ones that have cost of living raises all the time. I’m pretty fed up with hearing teachers complain they don’t get as much in social security as they think they should get. Give up your high pensions and go get the average amount someone gets on social security. I know which one I’d choose. Teachers get better benefits than any other job I’ve ever heard of. How many other jobs get four months off a YEAR? I think they should work year round just like everyone else. Start having them pay into social security & cut the high pensions. Look at the failure rates of kids anymore. What other job can someone work at and know regardless of how bad they are they won’t be fired? They don’t bother to look at some of these great benefits.

  37. Shyrl Smiley Says:

    I hear your comments, however get the facts correct. Teachers are paid on a per diem contract, usually for somewhere between 180 and185 days per year. They are not paid for any holidays. If they are out of sick days which are usually 10 days per year they are docked anywhere from 180 to 185th of their contract. Most teachers have in todays world over 6 years + higher education get less in comparison to their equivalent college educated professionals. If someone leaves the private sector to make a difference in teaching as I did, it is not disclosed that you will lose the bulk of your social security (which by the way I paid into for over 33 years). This rule of social security discrimination only affects 11 states so you shouldn’t live in California, Nevada, etc. Yes, there are bad teachers, but there are also many good teachers. It is the same in all fields throughout our country, banking, medicine, etc. Because we all went to school we all think we know how it works. You don’t have a clue. If the shool boards and the administrations of schools did their jobs the issues you complain about would not be so prevalent. The teacher is the only one most people see. Teachers are required by law to report any simblance of abuse. Write and deliver lesson plans that meet the needs of all students regardless of ability, economic circumstance, physical or mental limitations, never raise their voice, teach general hygene, get further education to meet the needs of a multicultural society, placate parents who feel that any homework is too much and in general be all things to all people, but above all never complain. Teachers can be fired if those supervising them do their jobs.

  38. jskdn Says:

    It’s amazing that this discussion persists. The principle behind the WEP and GPO are sound. I’m sorry that some people may be treated unfairly due to the lack of information Social Security has on earned income outside of Social Security, which, according to the GAO, is necessary to have more accurate and fair formulas. That could be fixed but politicians don’t seem interested, preferring instead pander to teachers at large as if they are all victims. Of course the permanent fix going forward is to have every employee in Social Security, but the teachers unions oppose that.

  39. Sissy Says:

    In response to Jeanel I’m not sure what teachers have four months off I know that it’s not any teacher in this country. And as for the downfall of children perhaps it’s the lack of importance placed on education and the breakdown of the American family. Parents who neglect to teach their children to respect others and be ready to learn when they enter school. So Janel I challenge you to become a teacher in today’s classroom. Oh by the way Janel I am normally at work at 6:15 each morning and don’t leave until 430 or 5 o’clock in the evening. I almost forgot those amazing benefits you’re talking about let’s see.. I pay over $250 a month for my son and I to have health insurance and that does not include dental or vision. We cannot afford to have my husband insured because the cheapest policy will be at least $600 for our family and we are a healthy active family that doesn’t get sick. Let’s also not forget that I have two college degrees and I’m paying $200 a month for my student loan. Despite all that I still love my job and more importantly I love the children and want to make a difference in our community. Jenelle I make less than $46,000 a year and I’m tired of people like you who think teaching is an easy job in today’s world. In this country teachers are treated like doormats and do not receive the respect that they deserve.

  40. Mrs Ripped Off by Social Security Says:

    have my Widow’s Benefits ( a whole $500) because it’s considered double dipping by some idiotic democrat who put in a bill saying so, AND I also won’t collect my due SS, also a double dipping situation by another democrat bill , except enough Maybe to pay for my Medicare. So, I live on my 2 credit cards, which I pay down enough each month so I can buy my groceries. Yes, I have an earned retirement thru the state, but only enough to pay my house bills. No phone, no tv, no heat in the winter, no frills. just live on, month to month . ( So I go south for the winter with kind friends to keep warm until the snow melts). Yet BOTH my late husband & I paid into social security for years upon years. My Big Question IS: WHO is getting that money WE paid in ???!!!

  41. Mrs Ripped Off by Social Security Says:

    Just saw half my previous comment vanished….well, I don’t have a very good internet service anyways, one get’s what they pay for ,you know, LOL !!! The previous sentences before “have my Widow’s benefits”….was just explaining how my late husband. (a Vietnam Vet) ( no, I get no benefits from that either), and I had BOTH paid into Social Security to get a modest retirement & then choose to help our community by working for the state of California later in Life. He passed away suddenly with no warning at a young 57…I was 54. I had to wait until I was almost 60, ( the age when one can apply for Widow’s Benefits), and was told I could not have my Widow’s Benefits. ( a whole $500) because it’s considered double dipping by some idiotic democrat who put in a bill saying so, AND I also won’t collect my due SS, also a double dipping situation by another democrat bill , except enough Maybe to pay for my Medicare. So, I live on my 2 credit cards, which I pay down enough each month so I can buy my groceries. Yes, I have an earned retirement thru the state, but only enough to pay my house bills. No phone, no tv, no heat in the winter, no frills. just live on, month to month . ( So I go south for the winter with kind friends to keep warm until the snow melts). Yet BOTH my late husband & I paid into social security for years upon years. My Big Question IS: WHO is getting that money WE BOTH paid in ???!!!

  42. Joy Says:

    Today I got a notice that I could not collect suvivors benefits. I worked for the state of Cal and took my retirement at 62 to take care of my husband. He died in Dec and I thought I would get his benefits. He put into SS 41 years but during the last few years of our job with the State of Ca they opted out of social security and went to safety retirement. So now I loose all his years and I worked for 32 years. Taking the early retirement I only get a small social security check on my own and was depending on his to help me get my grandson who I have raised through school. I am so unhappy I really don’t even want to go on…

  43. Gary hannan Says:

    I only want what was indicated every year 3 months before my birthday, should have received about $1000.00 per month, but I receive $596.00. After 26 years of service.. state of Alaska opted out of social security not me. My wife worked for 16 years gets $296.00 after 65 $146.00. We must work to repeel the WEP program. Unfair we shouldn’t be penilized for what they say is double dipping.

  44. Gary hannan Says:


  45. Gary hannan Says:

    After working for 26 years for Ak, I moved to Montana, low wages better weather much better, worked for various companys, what is a SUBSTANTIAL WAGE? I HAVE WORKED FOR THE WAGES PAID. I BELIEVE I HAVE PUT IN MORE THAN 30 YEARS OF SERVICE……

  46. Bev Says:

    My friend was a well paid bus driver for a school district in LA County County CA. I was a CA teacher. She now receives full social security and her pension.We worked the same length of time. We both had other jobs and both paid into social security. Presently we both have almost the same income I of course I had to pay back huge student loans, and I (unlike her) can not collect my husband’s survivor benefits from social security.

    The six years of my expensive college teacher training was done at night and during summer vacations. As were the the teacher tests I took, passed, and also paid for to get credentialed in California. My friend did none of this and was off every summer.

    My friend’s training consisted of working for a low wage company for six months while being trained by a private bus company. During her tenure with the school district she drove children to and from school approximately three hours a day. The rest of the time she cleaned her bus and did odd jobs.

    We both worked in the private sector for 18 years with nearly the same income. From Social Security I receive $120.00 a month after what they take out for medicare. My friend receives $1100 a month from Social Security. Next year she can get medicare.

    I should have become a school bus driver.

  47. Shyrl Smiley Says:

    As someone who paid in more than 30 years to social security and earned 60cents on the dollar to what a man was paid while working, I received less than half of what social security letters told me I would receive. I became a teacher and took my retirement from a previous employer to cover college. No one ever informed me that I would not be receiveing what had been indicated until I retired after 13 and one half years of teaching. I have to pay for my own supplement to medicare insurance. Congress should be the ones relieved of their benefits instead of the women in the working class who have been consistently screwed.

  48. hmmm Says:

    Curious.I wonder how the bus drivers pension payment compares to that of the school teachers.

    Bev states regarding she and the bus driver “Presently we both have almost the same income”. Since the bus driver receives so much SS income, the difference must be the superior pension payment to the school teacher.


  49. Janice Smith Says:

    I had worked in the private sector for 17 years before I went to the P.O. When I started there figured I would get to draw my whole S.S. benefits when I retired along with my P.O. pension and would get half of his S.S. if that was more than mine. I was told I would get his S.S. if he passed away before me. They changed the law 10 years after I started working at the P.O. and I won’t get his S.S. any way shape or form. When either of us passes away the remaining person has their income cut in half when it is hard enough to survive with both incomes. If you pay into it you should get it all.

  50. rp heath Says:

    Many people here seem not to grasp the major injustice inherent in the WEP/GPO. When these laws were enacted they failed to set a minimum poverty income bottom level to the penalty. Some retired teachers who came to the profession later after another career are now barely surviving on food stamps because of the penalty. Let’s be clear – you lose the social security benefits you paid in from any previous jobs and if you work for 12 years as a teacher you are not getting a big pension from CALstrs, maybe $450, yet those years will cost you most of the social security benefit you earned by paying into the system.

    Imagine you worked for 20 years and paid into SS, but only the years of substantial earnings count. You’re a single mother working a job that barely pays the rent. The equation for substantial earnings varies year by year. Some years you earned $15,337 but the cutoff was $15,002 so tough luck that year doesn’t count. You worked hard, paid into the system and made no mistake except for wanting to work as a teacher later in your career to try to make a difference.

    I would have gladly paid into SS when I first hired on as a high school teacher of social science in California. I was not given the choice. Nor was I told that that decision would cost me a minimally secure financial future. For not only do I lose the money I paid into the system working for five private companies – I lose the safety net of my husband’s benefit should I become widowed. We’re not talking large amounts here. Who can survive on a $450 pension and $145 in Social Security a month?

    There needs to be a poverty level exemption to allows a secure livable minimum that doesn’t penalize someone who is not double dipping because there is barely anthing there to dip into. If you were in our shoes – those of us who served the public, played by the rules and are being totally and completely screwed by these unjust, shortsighted laws – you would see that these laws are biased against females who were by life forced to accept lower wages and part-time positions to keep food on the table.

  51. Rosemary Says:

    Yes,. you can collect full social security while you are still teaching,, but be careful. ;even if you notify social security you have retired immediately, social security is slow to reduce your benefits so the agency can come back in two years and tell you you owe social security thousands of dollars in over payment which stops any future even reduced social security payments to which you are entitled and cancels medicare as well.

  52. Asark Says:

    I’ve worked for 20+ years paying social security. I’ve recently started teaching at a community college. Now I will get only 40% of my social security – that I paid into – and my teachers pension will be very small since I started teaching so late in life. Live paycheck to paycheck as a teacher then retire into poverty. Good times

  53. Mrs Payne Says:

    I understand Completely !!! I paid in to SS for over 20 years, as did my husband. He made the ‘mistake’ of dying unexpectedly at 57, so no SS for him. My ‘mistake’ was to go into state law enforcement in California at age 40…and than to make another ‘mistake’ by getting disabled on the job in a really bad accident. I was able to pick up a minimum paying job later after rehab & back into paying SS for another 8 years. So I was told I could get Widow’s Benefits thru SS, but I had to wait 6 years until I was 60 to apply. (I am still trying to figure the government logic on that one). Next I am told I make too much under the law enforcement disability, ( like WHAT???!!!), and I was denied the benefit. Than the ‘nice’ SS lady informs me that I will get hit with the ‘windfall’ penalty . How Special….so I will get Maybe $200 tops a month, instead of $1000. How Special. So who is getting all those funds that my dear departed husband & I paid into all these years ???!!!
    So, after all these years I have been surviving by buying by groceries with a credit card…in hopes that one day I will be able to sell the home my husband & I lived in for 30 years ,so I can pay off all my credit card debt, and all the bills I was left with after my husband passed away early in Life. !!! In the meantime, the politicians who passed this STUPID CRUEL ‘law’ under the guise of preventing supposed ‘double-dipping’ are getting their own retirement, 2 or 3 or more….and they are not penalized by the windfall penalty, of course NOT !!!

  54. Helene Chirinian Says:

    I noticed that comments began in 2009 and five years later nothing has changed. I worked outside teaching in publishing for twenty years and therefore I have much more than the 40 quarters that teachers need to get any SS. I receive about 1/3 of what I should get plus of course if my husband preceeds me in death I won’t receive his benefits. We are in our seventies. Most states give the full SS. How do CA and other states get away with this? I have written to senators repeatedly and they just don’t care. Why should they? We geezers will be dead soon and stop voting. Sen. Feinstein told me it would cost about a billion dollars a year to give us our full SS. I told her I don’t care; other states manage, so can CA. Maybe we can take the funds from Jerry Brown’s crazy train.
    We need to protest, but that won’t help. We don’t have a rich lobby. How can we maintain our lifestyles? So sorry I worked in CA. Meanwhile, all legislators seem to be concerned about is rights for illegal aliens. What a country this has become! Any suggestions for reviving the revolt?

  55. Rosemary Says:

    I was with you until you started to shift the blame to undocumented immigrants who have absolutely no connection to the massive social security rip off since they do not receive social security or any benefits since they are not citizens. Your righteous anger should be directed toward the federal government who controls social security. You are right. California is one of 14 states that does not allow teachers,to collect earned social security.Incredulous..

  56. Helene Chirinian Says:

    I have enough righteous anger for everyone involved. I am not blaming the illegals but rather politicians who seek the huge potential voting block in the future. It’s always about politics, not about people, and I’m sorry, but Californians should come first in the state: Rights for foster children, veterans, and public employees impacted by this totally discriminatory law. Also a legislator some time ago told me my money “will go where it’s most needed.” Verbatim. And another time our congressman came to our library and told us teachers that no matter how long we worked outside teaching, we didn’t deserve A DIME of social security because we have pensions! So, anybody out there have any ideas? We need to organize as a block. Sorry if I offended you, Rosemary, but we’re bound to disagree on some issues even if we agree on getting justice for ourselves.

  57. dick van wooten Says:

    thank you for stealing my earned benefit. how benevolent of you Mr G man. you are obviously very quick
    thank you g man . actually you sicken me to no end thanks for helping to sicken me to no end so long amerika

  58. Ann Gudmundson Says:

    So what states will give us full SS benefits? I’m willing to move. Retired CA teacher.

  59. Helene Chirinian Says:

    Still waiting for ideas as my honestly earned money goes down the drain. Ideas? Supposedly my now-retired congressman Waxman supported the repeal of the offsets we but haven’t heard a word from Ted Lieu, new guy. I really don’t believe anyone gives a damn about us and our rights. Where is this, committee-wise? Is anyone doing anything about this injustice?

  60. California Retired Teachers Association Says:

    Unfortunately moving won’t help. It’s not where you live, it’s where you draw your pension from. If you’re in the CalSTRS system you didn’t pay into SS for that work (long story but years ago they voted to not join the SS system for CalSTRS work). Having a CalSTRS pension then affects the benefits you did pay for through SS-covered work. It also affects your spousal support.

    Given that women generally outlive men, and more women are teachers, this issue affects more women than men. Not to mention second-career teachers who don’t pay into CalSTRS long enough to accrue the average pension thus having SS benefits cut is an even greater burden.

    This is a very complicated issue … and a tough fight. CalRTA has been fighting for years … April 15 volunteers will travel to DC to start the next round. We have to introduce new bills with each new Congress. Go here ( for a clear explanation of both provisions.

    We’ll post online ( once we have new bill numbers so you can contact your representatives. In California, State Senator Jim Beall has introduced Senate Joint Resolution 1 (SJR 1) that would urge Congress to pass and the president to sign the Social Security Fairness Act. You can also contact your state representatives with support for SJR 1.

  61. Cal teacher Says:

    Teachers who have had teaching as their only career are not complaining about the WEP/GPO; they will have retirement funds. Second-career teachers, like myself, are screwed. With only 12 years of teaching, my pension will be $300-$400. I will get $100-$200 in social security, even though I worked and paid into SS for over 20 years. I love teaching, and am a very effective and well-liked teacher, but I would have never gone into this profession if I had been informed I would lose the majority of my SS and my husband’s SS benefits. I have saved, invested, and lived frugally, but I will have a difficult time living on a $500 retirement. The CalSTRS pension is only beneficial to teachers who choose that as their only profession; all others should be exempt from WEP/GPO.

  62. Luke Says:

    Some of these stories are heartbreaking. To teachers in California who are being held back by being on a different system than their spouse (public pension vs. SS), do you have the option to “opt out”? In Illinois, a teacher can quit rather than retire at the end of their career, although almost no one does it. Then they could roll their public pension (TRS) contributions into an IRA. Having never collected from the Illinois TRS, that person would be able to collect from SS and their spouses’s survivor benefit someday if necessary.

    I recently left teaching after 13 years and still have almost 30 working years ahead of me in SS, and this is what I did, rolling my TRS contributions into an IRA. I did this partly because the Illinois TRS system is in bad shape, but partly to avoid the problem of WEP/GPO many years down the road for my myself and my wife.

    Theoretically, I could have done the same thing one day before I “retired” from teaching in some of the scenarios described above. Can the same thing be done in California?

  63. Kathryn Joyce Says:

    I retired in 2002 because I was sick and had to have two operations. I used up all my sick time when I was in the hospital and would have nothing but savings to live on. I worked from the time I was 16 years old until I was 65 years old. I was told I would get $695.00 in social security. It was something I earned not something they were giving me. They had the money I paid into the system for all those years. My husband worked 55 years on the railroad and died leaving $8000. dollars plus in his retirement. Before this bill I would have gotten $1700. plus dollars from his retirement and he said he wanted me to have it because he knew I would take care of the kids I ended up getting $270. dollars from SS and my PERS pension and nothing from my husbands RR retirement. Than the great Governor Kasach from Ohio wanted to tale our PERS and put it in social security. Now there is talk of him running for President As far as I am concerned the Republican Party just keeps on screwing the working man and woman in this country.

  64. Helene Chirinian Says:

    This has been a bone of contention for years! Is anything being done presently? We are losing so much money every month. How could only a few states get away with this chicanery? This seems to be a plot to drive elderly teachers below the poverty line. How grateful our government is for so many years of work devoted to America’s kids!

  65. Helene Chirinian Says:

    Hey, it’s not just the Republican party! Don’t think Democrats care about us any more than Republicans! Any new legislation? Any politicians getting on board with a potential repeal of the offsets? Anything we can do? Would like to see a repeal before I die!

  66. Jennifer Dana Says:

    I am a special education teacher. I completed my education in 1996. At that time you were required to have two credentials to teach as a special educator–a multiple subject (general education credential) and a special education teaching credential. Including my bachelors degree, it took me a total of eight years to obtain my special education teaching credential.

    In comparison to other professions requiring the same or less amount of education, teachers are paid substantially less money. For example, I recently sought legal help from an attorney regarding a personal issue, and what the attorney charged per hour is equivalent to what I earn in an entire day!

    I happen to be a single mother as well. My husband passed away from cancer 11 years ago, and my children and I barely make ends meat. With the cost of housing in California, my retirement benefits are basically a joke! I guess I will be working the rest of my life!

  67. Helene Chirinian Says:

    Just received a newsletter from NEA gushing about legislation that will help kids, according to them. That’s wonderful, as even though I’m retired, I certainly still care about kids. But what is the esteemed NEA doing about teachers’ rights? Nothing! Does anybody out there care? Or are they all waiting patiently for us to die off? Would love to hear what someone is doing, not just complaints like mine, which are akin to banging your head against a wall.

  68. rosemary Says:

    Of course “they” are waiting for us to die off, but we should give “them” hell until the time arrives. I wrote my congresswoman. Every year she introduces a bill to grant teachers, firemen and policemen earned social security. Social security is pretty blase with comments like”You did not pay into social security when you were teaching.”Of course my response is,”I paid into social security for 20 years PRIOR to paying into STRS” a truth which receives no reply.

  69. Helene Chirinian Says:

    I have written to my state senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein numerous times as have other teachers concerned about this injustice. The smug answers? They ranged from “We must give money to those with the greatest need,” in other words my money is being given to others without my input or permission, and “It would cost the state a billion dollars (or maybe it was ten billion dollars) per year.” My response? I don’t care. . . if other states can treat public employees fairly so can CA and the other states who are cheating hardworking Americans out of who knows how many millions of dollars per year!
    And, when you think of how much money teachers have taken from their own pockets year after year to buy supplies for students when the school districts cried poverty, the injustice is even more obscene!
    Anybody out there have any concrete solutions? A million-teacher march on Sacramento? Sign me up!

  70. Shyrl Smiley Says:

    What is interesting is that women who worked in the private sector like myself only earned 60 cents on the dollar to what a man made. Every year we received a letter from social security saying how much we’d earn. So I took my savings and went back and became a teacher for the last 15 years of my working career after 33 years in social security and I get 1/4 of what they said I’d get. Equal rights doesn’t exist. My husband still get more retirement than me even though I worked longer and made similar. The thing is even when I die he can’t get my social security because he taught the whole time. We have to pay for his Medicare quarterly. You’d think after 33 years they could at least cover his Medicare.

  71. Jeff Says:

    Government employees whose jobs are out of the Social Security system should have the opportunity to remain in SS by paying the tax just like the self-employed do. That would entail paying both the employee and employer share, with the later deducted from income for income tax purposes, 12.4% in all.

    It would still be better to have everyone in the system as such an option would allow government employees to make choices to their own advantage, something not available to others in the system.

  72. Frank T. Says:

    Horrible. If I only knew this before becoming a teacher I would have never went into this profession. California is the worst place to teach.

  73. Frank T. Says:

    Maybe Social Security AND CalSTRS should be deducted. This way you just get both and teachers in California aren’t paying the penalty. Social Security is Federal and it is quite unfair that there are these differences between States. NY teachers (as well as other States) get both.

  74. STEVEN A. MARTIN Says:

    I live in Ohio my deceased wife’s pension now issued to me and my son.STRS sends out a 1099 tax Form showing early withdrawal retirement.So I have to pay Federal taxes on a minor child’s death benefits.The kicker is if my wife had worked as a fireman,police or railroad worker survivor’s benefits would be tax free.You tell me why a R.R. worker is different from a union teacher.All children across the United States receiving survive benefits should be tax exempt until 21 unless working.

  75. Michael Kosec Says:

    Who wrote the WEP provision in the first place?

  76. Will Says:

    The politicians in DC need to do more than co-sponsor a Bill to repeal WEP/GPO. They need to stand in front of a camera and speak to all Americans and demand that their fellow politicians repeal WEP/GPO now! Why do some States escape this criminal act?

  77. Steve Harris Says:

    You forgot to mention the biggest reason why the benefits are reduced, you did not pay into them while working your teacher or police officer job.

    Some agencies opted out of Social Security. That is actually good news. Those who did, should have seen this problem and set aside 12.4% of their salary in a series of mutual funds, which would be a far better result than anything social security gives you.

    Your union is at fault for not looking ahead. Blame the hundreds of millions of union dollars not working for your best interest every year you pay your dues.

  78. California Retired Teachers Association Says:

    Actually we’re talking about paid-for benefits … not the years when teachers didn’t pay into Social Security. And, given that these provisions were implemented in the 80s, the oldest retirees, those with less generous benefits, had “the rules” changed mid-career. So these retirees – most of them older women – have smaller pensions AND the penalty of reduced benefits for summer jobs, etc. where they PAID into Social Security. Same thing with the spousal support element. These penalties have nothing to do with unions.

  79. Jeff Says:

    9 years and people are still making comments to this blog post. I won’t reiterate the reasons I’ve already explained above. But I hope people will read them and check their accuracy before posting. I understand why those not prepared for these provisions are shocked. But that doesn’t make them invalid.

  80. Jeff Says:

    WEP I can understand, but the GPO is the one that seems very unfair. The GPO means my wif a former teacher cannot receive my social security widow benefit when I die because she receives a pension.

  81. Janet Says:

    That is absolutely true, Jeff. My husband passed away suddenly at 57 years ago. Social Security told me that if I wanted to receive the SS Widow’s Benefit, I’d have to give up my pension. I was able to survive on my pension, but I would of had to apply for food stamps if I had to live only on my Widow’s Benefit. But the politicians that made these rules excluded themselves & their families from them.

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