SACRAMENTO – Senator Scott Wilk, representing the 21st Senate District, announces that Senate Joint Resolution 3 (SJR 3) has unanimously passed out of the Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement. SJR 3 urges the federal government to repeal two federal retirement benefit laws that can reduce Social Security for teachers along with some other groups of public employees and their spouses.
“Pure and simple, this is a matter of fairness. The federal government has not allowed its public servants to get their fair share of benefits, and it’s time they finally change that,” said Wilk. “Because of these federal policies, many low-income and middle class workers have seen their retirement benefits cut for no good reason – causing significant financial hardship in later life. It is well past time to repeal these laws.”
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.
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 could be slashed or altogether eliminated. 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.
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.
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 may be diminished 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 (e.g., people that have good careers in aerospace) may not consider second careers in education because of the ramifications to retirement under WEP and GPO.
“The GPO and WEP are flawed policies that penalize those who would seek noble careers in public service,” said Wilk. “I am thankful to my colleagues on the committee for their support, and I hope Congress finally hears us and repeals these harmful laws.”
SJR 3 has support from a number of education and law enforcement associations, including the California Teachers Association, the California Retired Teachers Association, the Peace Officers Research Association, and the Statewide Law Enforcement Association.
The measure now moves to the full Assembly for a vote.