Wilk legislation urges Congress to fix a retirement policy that hurts the families of teachers

SACRAMENTO – Senator Scott Wilk, representing the 21st Senate District, announced today that Senate Joint Resolution 3 (SJR 3) has unanimously passed the Senate Committee on Labor, Public Employment and Retirement. SJR 3 encourages the United States Congress and President to repeal two federal retirement benefit laws that reduce Social Security benefits in certain circumstances for public employees and their spouses.

“While this seems complicated, it is not. Some of our hardest-working public servants, including peace officers, firefighters and educators, see their social security benefit slashed because of these federal policies,” said Wilk. “These policies disproportionately impact women and the federal government needs to ensure retirees receive the benefits they have rightfully earned.”

The Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), passed in the 1970s with little statistical analysis, were designed to prevent “double-dipping” from social security and other government pensions. The GPO cuts benefits when an individual receives a government pension, and their spouse is eligible for social security from non-government employment. Similarly, the WEP cuts an individual’s benefits when they are eligible for social security and government pensions from separate employers.

Why does this matter? It is unfair.

  1. If you have had a non-public sector career and, for example, in later life become a teacher, the social security benefits you earned from your non-public sector career would be eliminated or slashed. Teachers, as a group, do not receive generous retirement benefits, so a policy that penalizes them from receiving their rightfully earned Social Security from a previous job is really a double whammy and infinitely unfair.
  2. 72-percent of teachers are women. The ramifications of this penalty are usually discovered when a spouse passes away and a widow’s household income is dramatically reduced because social security benefits are gutted.
  3. If you work in the private sector, pay social security and are the spouse of a person who is eligible for a pension that does not pay into social security (like a peace officer or teacher) the benefits you rightfully earned will be diminished, sometimes by up to 50 percent.

Other consequences of these problematic policies are that they disproportionately affect lower-income workers and can discourage qualified individuals from seeking public-sector jobs: such as STEM education. Our future depends on students having access to education in science, technology, engineering and math. Experts in these fields – for example people that have good careers in aerospace – would not consider second careers in education because of the ramifications to retirement under WEP and GPO.

“These laws were intended to prevent people from taking advantage of the government, but instead, they have resulted in the government taking advantage of its people,” said Wilk. “I am thankful to my colleagues on the committee for helping me take this step forward, and I hope the federal government will hear us and finally take action.”

SJR 3 has support from a number of groups representing public educators and law enforcement, including the California Teachers Association, the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, and the Peace Officers Research Association (PORAC). The measure now moves to the Senate Floor.

SJR 3 will now go to the Senate Floor for consideration by the full Senate.