What Happened to My Social Security?

July 18, 2017

Logo for the Social Security AdministrationHow Colorado PERA benefits relate to Social Security is one of the most misunderstood topics among members. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Why don’t Colorado teachers get Social Security?

Teachers in Colorado don’t pay into Social Security (most, but not all, do pay into Medicare). In fact, nearly all PERA members including State and most local government employees as well as judges do not have Social Security contributions deducted from their paychecks. You won’t be eligible for Social Security credits for the time you were contributing to PERA (unless you’re one of the few PERA members who also contribute to Social Security).

I have employment in both systems, why will I lose my Social Security benefit because I’m in PERA?

Your Social Security benefit could be reduced by up to one half of your monthly PERA benefit, not to exceed a monthly maximum that changes each year—$442.50 in 2017. This reduction is authorized by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. 

Before WEP, people, like PERA members, who worked in positions not covered by Social Security had their benefits calculated as if they were long-term, low-wage earners. The WEP prevents this “windfall” for individuals who receive a pension from employment where they did not pay into Social Security and who benefit from the higher Social Security provisions intended for low earners. 

WEP does not apply if you have 30 or more years of substantial earnings under Social Security. 

Will I get my spouse’s Social Security benefit after he/she dies?

If you are also receiving a PERA benefit, your spousal/widow(er) benefit could be reduced by two-thirds of the PERA benefit amount. In fact, the reduction could completely eliminate your spousal/widow(er) benefit. The reduction is authorized by the Government Pension Offset (GPO), which was first signed into law in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter and amended in 1983. 

GPO was intended to ensure that when determining the amount of the spousal benefit, government employees who do not pay Social Security taxes are treated in a similar manner to those who work in the private sector and pay Social Security taxes.

Is PERA working to repeal these laws?

Both WEP and GPO are federal laws and would require legislation at the federal level to alter or eliminate the provisions. In late April, legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would repeal both the WEP and the GPO. The Social Security Fairness Act of 2017 could face opposition because it would negatively affect the Social Security trust fund. As with any federal law you’d like to see changed, it’s best to contact your Congressional Representative to voice your opinion.

To learn more about how WEP and GPO could affect your future Social Security benefit, visit www.ssa.gov and use the WEP and GPO calculators. Remember, the Social Security Administration is the expert on these provisions and have access to your Social Security records so you should contact them with specific questions.

Your PERA benefit will never be reduced because you also receive a Social Security benefit.