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What Is the Government Pension Offset?

The Government Pension Offset (GPO) reduces public employees' Social Security spousal or survivor benefits by an amount equal to two-thirds of their public pension. Spousal and survivor benefits are normally available to any person whose retired or deceased spouse worked at a job in which he or she earned Social Security benefits. The GPO reduces or eliminates these benefits.

Who does the GPO affect?

The GPO affects individuals who worked as federal, state or local government employees, including as educators, police officers and firefighters, if the job was not covered by Social Security.

How does the GPO work?

The GPO reduces Social Security spousal or widow(er) benefits by two-thirds of the amount of an individual's public pension. For example:

Jane — a widowed, retired educator receives a public pension of $600 a month. Her job in the public school system was not covered by Social Security. Her deceased husband, however, earned Social Security benefits from his job in the private sector. An amount equal to two-thirds of Jane's public pension — or $400 — will be cut from her Social Security widow's benefits. This means that if she were eligible for $500 in survivor benefits, the GPO would reduce her benefits to $100 ($500 - $400 = $100).

What's the impact of the GPO?

Estimates indicate that nine out of 10 public employees affected by the GPO lose their entire spousal benefit, even though their deceased spouse paid Social Security taxes for many years. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the GPO reduces benefits for some 300,000 individuals by more than $3,600 a year. The GPO has the harshest impact on those who can least afford the loss: lower-income women.

What can be done to address the GPO?

Congress can pass legislation to repeal the GPO. For example, Representatives McKeon (R-CA) and Berman (D-CA) have introduced a bill (H.R. 147) to repeal the GPO.