Mailbag: Survivor Benefits and the Government Pension Offset

answers to social security questionsToday’s question comes from Jay in Louisiana.

“I retired from a police department in Louisiana after 33 years. My wife got cancer and died two years later. She was in the medical field, paying SS. I was under the impression that once I turned 60 (and had not remarried {no chance}), I would be able to receive a survivor benefit based on  her earnings. As I neared 60, I checked and was told that my police retirement off set anything I could get.  So what about all that money my wife put into SS?  It doesn’t seem fair. She made as much or more than I did. And when she died her income just stopped.

Thanks for reading this and I would appreciate your insight.

Would repeal of WEP address this?”

Jay, I’m really sorry to hear about your wife. My mom passed away right at the beginning of my dad’s retirement. Like him, I’m sure this isn’t the retirement lifestyle that you expected.

It seems that you’ve been introduced to the Social Security penalty known as the Government Pension Offset. This rule applies to individuals who are entitled to a Social Security benefit as a survivor or spouse AND have a pension from work where they did not pay Social Security tax.

In short, your pension from the years spent as a public servant is messing up your ability to get a Social Security benefit. The mechanics of the Government Pension Offset are really simple. If you have a pension from work where you did not pay Social Security taxes, your survivor or spousal benefit from Social Security will be reduced by an amount equal to two-thirds of your pension.

For example, let’s consider the case of Joe. He worked as a teacher for 30 years and his wife was a nurse. Since they lived in Louisiana, one of the states where teachers are not covered by Social Security, Joe never paid any Social Security taxes. When he retired, he began receiving pension of $3,000 per month from the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana. His wife also retired and filed for her Social Security benefits of $2,100 per month. Sadly, she passed away only two months later.

Needless to say, he was devastated by her death and it didn’t help to find out that he would not continue to receive her Social Security benefit. Instead, the Government Pension Offset kicked in and reduced the survivor’s benefit down to a measly $100 per month.

Graphic of the Government Pension Offset

I often hear people talk about how unfair this provision is. I wholeheartedly agree! Instead of teaching chemistry, Joe could have worked as a pharmacist. If he would have, he would be eligible for 100% of his survivor benefits. This is why they call it a penalty for public service!

Lastly, you asked me if the WEP repeal would address this issue. Unfortunately, the current bill to repeal the Windfall Elimination provision has nothing included for those who are subject to the Government Pension Offset.

If you want to take a deeper dive, I wrote a more thorough article on the Government Pension Offset on my blog.

Thanks for your question!

A note for all readers.

I love Social Security questions! I’ll answer them privately as time allows, but if I think the answer will benefit a wide audience, I’ll also publish them on my blog. Don’t worry, I’ll change up enough personal details so you’ll stay unknown. Send your questions to

If you need individual and specific help, I’m always available for a consultation.

As a final resource, read my article on how to find answers to your Social Security questions.