The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) has received multiple phone calls regarding a recent correspondence from the federal Social Security Administration (SSA) to retirees who receive SSA spousal benefits.

Retirees who receive these benefits and are subject to the federal Government Pension Offset (GPO) were informed in this letter that their SSA spousal benefit may be reduced due to the supplemental payment received by most TRS retirees in January 2022.

The GPO formula deducts two-thirds of the amount of a retiree’s TRS pension from their SSA income. This formula is meant to replace the formula used for private sector employee retirees. For those in the private sector, the SSA spousal formula subtracts the entire amount of a retiree’s SSA benefit from the deceased spouse’s pension to determine the spousal benefit, if any. In other words, the surviving spouse only keeps the greater of the two Social Security benefits (their own or their spouse’s) when their spouse precedes them in death.

For TRS retirees, since the GPO uses their TRS pension as a part of the deduction formula, the SSA has interpreted the law such that any changes to the amount of the pension—even one-time payments—automatically cause a change to the SSA spousal benefit amount, too. Since the January 2022 supplemental payment was a one-time event, the amount of the increase is amortized over a 30-year period. While the SSA may do this to help minimize the impact of their deduction, TRTA argues that any additional reduction in a person’s already reduced SS benefits is too much.

TRTA is working with the Texas Congressional delegation to make some changes and help TRS retirees. As an immediate action item, TRTA is calling on Congress to change the interpretation of the law so that if a public employee retiree’s spousal benefit is impacted by the GPO, their remaining Social Security benefit can NEVER be reduced again!

TRTA says if the federal GPO already has been applied to a retiree’s spousal/ auxiliary benefit and it was not eliminated completely, then no further reduction in their Social Security income should occur ever again when there is an increase in their state pension benefits!

TRTA calls this measure the “One-and-Done” approach and we believe it should be enacted immediately. As we are seeing now, whenever TRTA secures a benefit increase for retirees on their state pension benefits, the federal government then reduces the retiree’s remaining spousal/auxiliary benefit. This is punitive and impractical and should come to an end!

Perhaps even more importantly, TRTA is calling on Congress to stop the GPO pain! The Government Pension Offset unfairly penalizes public servants, including Texas retired school employees. The worst part is GPO typically hurts seniors after the loss of a spouse who was a Social Security recipient.

The GPO is bad public policy that is hurting dedicated public servant retirees all over the country.

Contact your congressman today and let them know it’s time to Stop the GPO Pain!

Please stay tuned to the Inside Line for additional updates. In an article coming soon, TRTA will address the work we are doing on the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).