TRTA members are not the only people happy to see the Texas Legislature provide an increase to Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) retirees who retired as of August 31, 2004 or before. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has also learned of this news and is preparing to reduce TRS retirees’ Social Security checks that are impacted by the Government Pension Offset (GPO).
It is vital that we all know what SSA benefits are being impacted in this most recent attempt by the federal government to take money from our TRS retirees. As many of you know, there are two Social Security provisions that reduce or eliminate a TRS retiree’s annuity.
One of these provisions is called the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). This provision reduces the Social Security income of an individual based on his or her OWN work history. An example is a TRS employee who worked during or after her school employment (during which she did not pay into Social Security) in a new position where she did pay into Social Security. This work history results in 40 or more “earned quarters,” at which point the retiree becomes eligible for a Social Security benefit. The WEP is applied to this person’s Social Security income because she receives a pension. The WEP reduces her Social Security benefit by up to two-thirds. The WEP does not eliminate the Social Security benefit completely.
While many TRS retirees are impacted by this provision, the recent increase in TRS annuity amounts will NOT have ANY impact on a retiree’s personally earned Social Security benefit.
The other Social Security provision, the one that the SSA is using to target TRS retirees, is the Government Pension Offset (GPO). The GPO reduces the Social Security benefit that a TRS retiree may qualify for based on their spouse’s work history. If a TRS retiree qualifies for a spousal benefit (this could also be a widow’s/widower’s benefit, or auxiliary benefit), the SSA implements a formula to reduce or eliminate the Social Security amount.
For example, when Jane receives a TRS benefit of $1,800 per month from her work with an ISD that did not pay into Social Security and her husband passes away, she is eligible to receive a portion of his Social Security benefit. Normally, the spousal benefit she is eligible to receive based on her spouse’s work history is $1,500. However, Social Security knows Jane receives a pension. The GPO formula therefore is used by the SSA to offset her spousal benefit. Her Social Security benefit will be reduced by two-thirds the amount of her pension.
In our example, the offset looks like this:
$1,800 (Jane’s TRS) X 2/3 = $1,200 (this is the offset amount)
$1,500 (Jane’s eligible spousal benefit) – $1,200 (calculated offset) = $300/month Social Security (what Jane actually receives)
As you can see, Jane’s Social Security was not completely offset in this example, but in MOST cases the GPO does eliminate a retiree’s eligible spousal benefit completely.
Those fortunate enough to still qualify for their spousal benefit are told that future cost-of-living increases in states that have annual COLAs will continue to reduce the remaining spousal benefit. The SSA counts on these state COLAs to increase their revenue projections. If the SSA stopped this practice, it would reduce their budgeted revenues for the year.
Texas TRS annuitants are not promised cost-of-living increases. It would be impossible for the SSA to budget an increase in their “revenue” for the year based on the Texas Legislature authorizing the increase that was just implemented for TRS retirees on October 1, 2013. However, this is not stopping the SSA from taking the opportunity to realize a “windfall” of its own.
TRTA has learned that many of our members who qualify for a reduced Social Security spousal benefit are now receiving letters from the SSA asking what their new annuity amount is with the 3% increase.
There can be no doubt that this information is being requested to further reduce retirees’ Social Security spousal benefits. While this is our belief, we have reached out to the SSA for an official comment.
TRTA anticipated that SSA would attempt to reduce our retirees’ Social Security benefits. For over a month, TRTA officials have made multiple trips to Washington, D.C. to ask our Congressional members to intervene.
TRTA believes the GPO and the WEP should be repealed. This is a hotly debated issue in Congress and it has gained little traction for many reasons, but mostly because the SSA and Congress rely on GPO and WEP to bolster the financially troubled Social Security program. Some members of Congress are working hard to implement an even more devastating provision known as “mandatory Social Security,” which has the potential to destroy the state funding for our Texas TRS pension trust fund.
While all this is being debated in a Congress that is deadlocked and shutdown, Texas TRS retirees may see the state provide the first increase in over 12 years and the federal government nullifies much of that benefit by taking the money for themselves.
This is an outrage that EVERY member of the Texas Congressional Delegation should rise up against!
TRTA is calling on Congress to put a stop to allowing the SSA to further harm our TRS retirees who already are impacted by the GPO. In lieu of a complete repeal of the GPO, there must be an immediate freeze on any further reductions of Social Security benefits that already have been reduced by the GPO.
TRTA believes that Congress must impose a “one-and-done” strategy to protect our TRS retirees right now! The SSA never counted on these revenues in their budget projections; therefore, there is no cost to the federal government!
TRTA also calls on Congress to have a real conversation about the elimination or modification of the GPO and WEP. These two reductions harm retirees who are on fixed incomes and are detrimental to attracting the best and brightest educators to our classrooms.
TRTA has met with numerous Congressional members including Representatives Sam Johnson, Kevin Brady and Lloyd Doggett as well as the staff members of numerous other Congressmen, all of whom have responded favorably to working on a solution to this immediate threat to our TRS annuitants.
TRTA encourages our members to contact their Congressmen and tell them to prevent the SSA from further harming TRS retirees impacted by the GPO. Click here to use our new campaign that makes it easy for you to email your Congressmen today! You can edit this email to include information about how the GPO affects you personally. We will also update you regularly as we work with our Congressional members. Please send us your feedback on this important issue.
TRTA is strong because our members are active, vocal, and organized. Let’s send a message to Washington that now is the time for real action! This government needs to get back to work and solve problems that will impact their Texas constituents!
We need EVERY TRS RETIREE to join in our advocacy efforts! Other groups are spending billions of dollars to intimidate and cajole legislative members into doing nothing to help their public servants. While these groups are more interested in score cards and political maneuvering, TRTA members are interested in results. Our legislators need to know that while the billionaires may be trying to buy influence there is one thing their dollars cannot buy: YOUR VOTE!
TRTA members are watching, and we are prepared to go to the polls and cast our votes for those who get things done. Let’s send Congress a real wake-up call and let them know that real Texans, vulnerable retirees who are on fixed incomes, are about to be hit right in their pocket books if Congress does not intervene against the Social Security Administration.