Search Penny Hill Press

Monday, March 1, 2010

Social Security: The Government Pension Offset (GPO)

Alison M. Shelton
Analyst in Income Security

A worker is "covered" by Social Security if he or she pays into Social Security through the Old- Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) payroll tax for 10 years (40 quarters). Currently, 96% of all workers are covered by Social Security. The majority of non-covered positions are held by federal, state, and local government employees. 

The Government Pension Offset (GPO) applies to Social Security spousal benefits, which are generally payable to the spouses of retired, disabled, or deceased workers covered by Social Security. The Social Security spousal benefit is equal to 50% of the retired or disabled worker's benefit and 100% of the deceased worker's benefit. 

Social Security spousal benefits were established in the 1930s to help support wives who are financially dependent on their husbands. It has since become more common for both spouses in a couple to work, with the result that, in more cases, both members of a couple are entitled to Social Security or other government pensions based on their own work records. Social Security generally does not provide both full worker and full spousal benefits to the same individual. Similarly, in the case of a couple where both members work, Social Security does not provide two full worker benefits and two full spousal benefits to the couple. 

Two provisions are designed to reduce the Social Security spousal benefits of individuals who are not financially dependent on their spouses because they receive benefits based on their own work records. These are 

• the "dual entitlement" rule, which applies to spouses who qualify for both a Social Security benefit based on their own work histories in Social Securitycovered employment and the Social Security spousal benefit, and 

• the GPO, which applies to spouses who qualify for both a government pension based on their own non-Social Security-covered government employment and a Social Security spousal benefit. 

The GPO reduces Social Security spousal benefits by two-thirds of the pension from non-covered government employment. The GPO does not reduce the benefits of the spouse who was covered by Social Security. 

Opponents contend that the GPO provision is basically imprecise and can be unfair. Defenders argue it is the best method currently available for preserving the spousal benefit's original intent of supporting financially dependent spouses, and also for eliminating an unfair advantage for spouses working in non-Social Security-covered employment compared with spouses working in Social Security-covered jobs (who are subject to the dual entitlement rule). 

In the 111th Congress, Representative Howard Berman has introduced H.R. 235, the Social Security Fairness Act of 2009, to repeal the GPO. Senator Dianne Feinstein has introduced a companion bill, S. 484, to repeal the GPO.

Date of Report: February 12, 2010
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RL32453
Price: $29.95

Document available electronically as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail or call us at 301-253-0881.