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Public Workers Get Less Social Security — but That Might Soon Change

Rachel Curry - Author
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Sep. 21 2022, Published 1:37 p.m. ET

Public servants have historically gotten the short end of the Social Security stick. Regulators are trying to change that, but they face a steep battle in Congress.

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At this point, public workers like teachers, police officers, and other pension-earning retirees still receive lower Social Security.

Here’s why — and whether it could change.

Pensions impact social security benefits.

The Social Security Act has two provisions in it that target benefits for public workers. These provisions are the:

  • Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP): The WEP reduces the total Social Security benefits for public workers who receive a pension but have also paid into the Social Security program.

  • Government Pension Offset (GPO): The GPO reduces benefits for living spouses of deceased public workers. When the surviving spouse receives the pension, the GPO reduces their Social Security benefits.

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Teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other government workers who receive a pension receive fewer Social Security benefits under these provisions.

The idea is that it equalizes how much money a person is getting from the government in retirement. If you get a pension, you won’t get full Social Security benefits.

Lawmakers want to fill the gap in Social Security, but how will they fund it?

Some members of Congress think the provisions that lower Social Security benefits for public servants are unjust. That’s why they’re proposing the Social Security Fairness Act, which would repeal the two provisions.

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) introduced the bipartisan bill, backed by 300 co-sponsors (of 435 total voting representatives).

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That’s a decent ratio, but “there just aren’t that many legislative days left,” Maria Freese, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare senior legislative representative, told reporters.

That isn't even the only problem the bill faces. Social Security is already at risk of solvency.

Despite the recent inflation adjustments for Social Security benefits, the program is poised to run out of money by 2035 if no changes are made.

The go-broke date tends to shift as new information emerges about the fate of Social Security, but millennials and those even younger are at a legitimate risk of losing out on Social Security benefits as we know them today.

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“We are faced with very challenging questions — how to address the legitimate concerns of hardworking public servants while also safeguarding Social Security for all, and indeed for generations to come," Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), House Ways and Means Committee Chair, said.

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The question remains: Will public servants keep earning less in Social Security benefits compared to their non-pension-earning peers? For now, it’s likely.

However, plenty of Congresspeople are pushing for a shift, even if it means unequal overall government retirement benefits. Proponents say public servants deserve that generosity.

Davis, the one who introduced the bill, said in a statement, “I’ll continue to push for a vote on this common-sense bill and remind the public that the Democrat leadership of the House has it in their power to allow a vote at any time.”

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