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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Social Security: The Government Pension Offset (GPO)

Alison M. Shelton
Analyst in Income Security

The Government Pension Offset (GPO) applies to Social Security spousal and survivor benefits, which are generally payable to the spouses and survivors 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 the survivor benefit is 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 a full retired-worker and a full spousal benefit to the same individual.

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 (1) a Social Security retired or disabled worker benefit based on their own work histories in Social Security-covered employment and (2) a Social Security spousal benefit based on a spouse’s work history in Social Security-covered employment; and 
  • the GPO, which applies to spouses who qualify for both (1) a government pension based on their own non-Social Security-covered government employment and (2) a Social Security spousal benefit based on a spouse’s work history in Social Security-covered employment. 
The GPO reduces Social Security spousal benefits by two-thirds of the pension from noncovered 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).

Date of Report: January 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RL32453
Price: $29.95

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