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Social Security for California’s classified employees

Will my Social Security benefit be reduced because I will receive a CalPERS pension?

Many classified employees are asking this question as they begin to apply for California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) and Social Security benefits. The answer is simply “if you have always contributed to both Social Security and CalPERS on all earnings on which your CalPERS (or any other pension) is based, your Social Security should not be reduced.

In some cases, however, Social Security has mistakenly applied a reduction to classified employees who were entitled to full benefits. The two most common reductions classified employees are subjected to are: the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset.

Windfall Elimination Provision

The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) of the Social Security law causes a reduction in a person’s Social Security calculations if an individual does not contribute to Social Security on all earnings that will result in another pension. Teachers in California are an example because they only contribute to CalSTRS, not Social Security.

Social Security representatives are sometimes confused when they process applications for classified school employees who are receiving CalPERS benefits. When your record shows that you are an employee of a school district or you say you are eligible for CalPERS benefits, the representative often assumes that you are subject to the WEP.

There are some instances where classified employees may be legitimately reduced however. Employees in some county offices of education do not contribute to Social Security but do contribute to CalPERS. Also, some CalPERS service credit purchases can cause a Social Security reduction if the purchase was for time when the employee was not contributing to Social Security, or they purchased “Additional Retirement Service Credit,” commonly referred to as “air time.” In these cases, the only way to avoid a reduction for the portion of the pension from funds not covered by Social Security is to have 30 years of Social Security contributions on significant earnings.

If you have always contributed to both CalPERS and Social Security, you can avoid any misunderstanding regarding the Windfall Elimination Provision by taking with you a copy of a letter from one of Social Security’s very knowledgeable Public Affairs Officers, Robert Hartnett.

If you are told you must have a reduction because you are also in CalPERS, please download and present the following letter for clarification.

Letter from Social Security Public Affairs Officer Robert Hartnett (PDF)

Government Pension Offset

A second provision, the Government Pension Offset (GPO) has also been misapplied to some CSEA members. This provision affects a portion of Social Security benefits that you might be entitled to on your spouse’s, or ex-spouse’s Social Security record.

For example, Jane Doe is a retired classified employee. She and her husband (of at least 10 years) are both receiving Social Security checks. Jane may be entitled to a portion of her husband’s check while he is still living or upon his death, but because she receives a CalPERS pension, she may also be mistakenly subjected to a reduction.

If Social Security sees a retiree like Jane receiving a CalPERS pension, it may apply the GPO to the portion of her spouse’s amount that she should receive. If this happens, her Social Security check would be reduced by two-thirds of the amount she receives from CalPERS. It can add up to a loss of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars over the years.

Get the facts and collect the benefits you deserve

CSEA has successfully assisted many members in understanding their retirement benefits. If you receive a reduction, it is important to make sure that it was applied appropriately. Get the facts before you retire and learn what tools are available to you to prevent or rectify an inappropriate reduction in benefits.

If you are unable to resolve your Social Security issue, call 800-632-2128, extension 1205, and leave a message regarding your issue.

Social Security Resources

CSEA Pre-Retirement Seminars

Attend a FREE CSEA Pre-Retirement Seminar in your area. You’ll get the information you need to maximize your pension benefits and Social Security.

Retirement answers online

Want to know when you are eligible to retire? Wondering what formula is used to calculate your retirement benefit? Get answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Join the CSEA Retiree Unit

CSEA is your advocate on the job, but we are also there to make sure that you get the rights and benefits you are entitled to as a retiree.

When you leave school employment for retirement or other work and are 50 or older, be sure to keep your CSEA Membership by joining CSEA’s Retiree Unit. You will have representation with Social Security, and CalPERS along with many other Union Benefits to enjoy while on a fixed income. Cost is $36 a year or $3.00 per month from your CalPERS check. Learn More