Washington, DC - Dear Rusty: Please validate or negate this dreadful information: My husband and I are recently retired and living on our combined retirement plans. I was told that when my husband dies, I will NOT be allowed to draw ANY of his hard-earned Social Security income. I cannot survive on my Louisiana teacher retirement alone. We were never informed of this until we had worked hard for 40 years & retired. Can you advise me on this dreadful turn of events. ~ Bewildered in Louisiana
Dear Bewildered: Unfortunately, I don't have good news. If your teaching career and the associated pension were in the State of Louisiana, I'm afraid that any Social Security survivor benefit you might be eligible for from your husband will be impacted by the Government Pension Offset (GPO) - a provision of Social Security which applies to anyone with a pension from an employer who did not participate in the Social Security program. Louisiana is, unfortunately, one of 27 U.S. States whose employees may be affected by the GPO, because neither you nor the State of Louisiana contributed to the Social Security program while you were employed there. It's unfortunate you weren't made aware of this by your employer, but it's well documented in the State’s “LASERS” information which you can view at this link: https://www.lsuhsc.edu/administration/hrm/benefits-retirement-nonss.aspx
The GPO will reduce your Social Security survivor benefit by 2/3rds of the amount of your LA State pension, and if 2/3rds of your LA pension is more than your SS survivor's benefit, the Social Security survivor benefit will be eliminated. I know it's no solace, but you are not alone in your dismay over this provision. In fact, a bill is active in Congress to eliminate the GPO (and a sister provision known as the Windfall Elimination Provision, or WEP), but that bill has made little headway despite having 195 Congressional co-sponsors. The bill I'm referring to is known as the "Social Security Fairness Act", which is House bill H.R. 1205 (there is a corresponding Senate bill S.915). You can examine it at https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1205, but I must let you know that very little progress has been made on this bill since it was introduced almost two years ago. For the record, the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC) has expressed support for the bill’s passage, but to no avail in a Congress which is instead debating ways to resolve Social Security's larger financial issues which are now projected to deplete the Trust Fund by 2035. I’m afraid the only suggestion I can offer for your personal situation is to contact your Congressional Representatives and ask for their support and action on H.R. 1205 and S.915.