Government Pension Offset
The Government Pension Offset (GPO) is a federal law impacting the ability of some retired government workers to collect spousal Social Security benefits. Specifically, GPO applies to public retirees who collect a pension from employment not covered by Social Security.
Traditionally, spousal Social Security benefits grant ½ of the value of a Social Security beneficiary’s benefit to their spouse, if the spouse does not qualify for Social Security on their own. For those who do qualify for Social Security, spousal Social Security benefits can be collected if the benefit is higher than what the individual would otherwise qualify for on their own.
The GPO offsets the spousal benefit by applying 2/3rds of the value of a retiree’s public pension against the value of the Social Security benefit. If 2/3rds of the pension is larger, then no spousal Social Security benefit is granted.
Please Note: The GPO does not impact Medicare eligibility. Retirees, age 65 and older, can still qualify for Medicare through their spouse (or former spouse) as long as they have been married for at least 10 years. For those enrolled in Medicare A & B, but do not receive a Social Security check, Medicare bills the retiree directly for Part B.
The Government Pension Offset (GPO) is a federal law impacting the ability of some retired government workers to collect spousal Social Security benefits. Specifically, GPO applies to public retirees who collect a pension from employment not covered by Social Security. Learn more about the GPO here.
The intent of the GPO was to prevent public retirees from collecting both their own pension (earned outside of Social Security) AND the spousal Social Security benefit.
When Social Security was created in 1935, the original law did not contain spousal benefits. Congress added the benefit three years later, in 1938, in order to provide retirement income for spouses who did not work outside of the home.
By the 1970s, both the Carter Administration and both parties in Congress began to question the fairness of public retirees, not eligible for their own Social Security benefit, collecting both their pension AND the spousal Social Security benefit. The questions of fairness relate to the original intent of spousal Social Security benefits, which was to provide retirement income for those who did not work outside of the home.
In December 2018, about 695,059 Social Security beneficiaries, or about 1% of all beneficiaries, had their benefits reduced by the GPO. Of those directly affected by the GPO, 54% were spouses and 46% were widow(er)s. The GPO affected 15% of all spouse beneficiaries and 8% of all widow(er) beneficiaries. About 72% of all GPO-affected beneficiaries had their benefits fully offset and about 28% had their benefits partially offset. (Congressional Research Service, MA 2019)
There are 27 states that have public retirees and employees who could be hurt by either the GPO/WEP. The first seven states listed below have almost all or a large majority of their public employees not contributing to Social Security, and, therefore, potentially affected by these laws as retirees. The remaining 20 states are ranked in terms of the percent of employees who may be impacted (66-16%). They are: California, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Ohio, Texas, Florida, New York, Nevada, Connecticut, Kentucky, Minnesota, Georgia, Missouri, Michigan, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Washington, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Alaska, Maine, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico and New Hampshire.
Unfortunately, there is no way to appeal the WEP or GPO. Both are federal laws created by Congress and approved by President Ronald Regan in 1983. The law does not grant exemptions, regardless of the hardships often created.
Simply put, at this time broad national support does not exist to repeal GPO or WEP. Attempts to repeal both the GPO and WEP laws have been ongoing for the past 36 years. Despite best efforts and regardless of the number of cosponsors, repeal legislation has never advanced beyond the Congressional committee level.
We believe reform of the GPO is possible, but at this time consensus does not exist as to what such a proposal might contain. Legislation aimed at reforming the WEP is now before Congress. Future legislation will focus on reform of the GPO.