Why Are My Wife's Spousal Benefits Subject To GPO?

Dec 16 2016 - 1:00pm

Hi Larry: I am age 65 and have received SSDI for past 7 years ($1650 monthly). My wife, will be 66 in Feb. 2017 and her PIA will be $2375. She has 35 years of " Substantial" SS earnings. She recently filed for a restricted spousal benefit, DOB 2/13/1951. Following a 35 year career in private industry she retired and then was employed with a county agency, working 9 additional years. Her OCERS montly allowance is $1900 and began two years ago. We were contacted yesterday by the SSA and informed, due to the GPO, she was entitled to zero dollar spousal benefit. I understand how the GPO was calculated but it seems so unfair. If she had not ambitiously worked a second career, putting in a very significant dollar contribution herself to her county retirement, she would have received half of my benefit and been able to delay her benefit to age 70. I thought this rule was for govenment employees who earned a pension from a lifetime of noncovered (and non-FICA taxpaying) work. Based on age, years of substantial earnings and the rules for filing a restricted spousal benefit, my wife was qualified for these benefits. Once gained, how can the SSA take them away? It does not seem reasonable to penalize her following paying SS tax on 35 years of substantial earnings! Please explain why she is subjected to the GPO rules. Thank You.


The Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision applies to the spousal or widow(er) benefits of people receiving a government pension based on work not subject to Social Security taxes. Specifically, their Social Security spousal or widow(er) benefits are reduced by 2/3rds of the gross amount of their government pension. The pension can be from any level of government work, federal, state, local, or county, provided that it's a US government agency. Foreign pensions are excepted from GPO.

There is no exception to GPO based on a person's years of substantial Social Security covered earnings. Why, I don't know. That's simply the way Congress wrote and passed the law. The exception based on 30 or more years of substantial earnings to which you refer applies to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which can affect the rate of Social Security benefits payable on a person's own work record. If your wife has at least 30 years of what is considered to be 'substantial earnings', she'll be exempt from WEP when she applies for retirement benefits on her own account.

For more information on GPO & WEP, refer to the following pamphlets: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10007.pdf & https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10045.pdf.

Best, Jerry