Will Social Security Claim My Back Pay If I'm Awarded Disability Benefits From My Teacher's Pension Plan?

Mar 5 2019 - 8:04am

Dear Larry,

Thanks in advance for your help! My concern is not listed in the topics to the left.

I am 70 years old and I collect Social Security retirement benefits. I taught for 24 years as an adjunct professor, during which time my university paid into the State Teacher's Retirement System of Ohio (STRS) instead of Social Security. Because my academic employment was often only part time, I worked other jobs that paid into Social Security.

In May 2017 I finished my last class and applied for disability through STRS. Both my claim and my appeal were denied. At present my lawyer and I are preparing an appeal to the state court, which we have not yet filed.

I have not applied for retirement through STRS because doing so would prevent my getting STRS disability. I hope I can file for retirement now while I file my appeal with the court system, although I'm not even positive about that. If you have any info on this issue, I'd be grateful. I originally applied for disability in October 2017 and last worked in April 2017. I have exhausted my savings and need a source of income, since I am not able to work at this time. I hesitate to ask for retirement as I don't want to lose the potential disability benefits; so right now I'm getting neither.

Now, here's the Social Security question: Social Security have cut my benefits from about $500 a month to about $130 a month. They gave me no explanation but told my congressman, who called them on my behalf, that I was being penalized for not collecting the retirement I am due from STRS. Is this possible? Is it legal? I didn't file for retirement for two reasons: 1) I didn't want to retire; I want to get better and return to work; 2) filing for retirement would preclude my getting disability benefits, to which I'm morally and legally entitled and which is considerably more money than retirement.

Once I am awarded disability, or once I give up on disability and apply for retirement, I will get a large lump sum of money, the payments I am due dating back to either April or October 2017. Now I understand that Social Security may be able to claim this money under the Windfall Elimination Provision. Is this correct? It's not a windfall, it's my rightful disability or retirement pay, that I've been waiting for all these months because STRS didn't handle my case correctly the first time I applied. I can't imagine that they could take that away. I can't imagine how they can cut my tiny $500 check to $130 a month with no explanation!

Please help! I've worked hard all my life, even though I haven't earned much money. I don't deserve to be treated like this! Social Security isn't welfare; it shouldn't be adjusted based on my other retirement income. It wouldn't be adjusted based on my earnings, since I'm now 70. It wasn't my choice to contribute to two retirement systems.

Many thanks.
Please feel free to email or to call me.

PS. I can't even reach Social Security on my own. There's over an hour hold time, they don't offer to call back, and after an hour the phone system hangs up!

Hi,

I don't know anything about the Ohio STRS, but the reason that your Social Security payments have been reduced is due to the Windfall Elimination Provision, or WEP (https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10045.pdf). The WEP provision can result in a lowered Social Security benefit rate if a person also receives a pension from a job where their earnings were exempt from Social Security taxes.

I'm not sure why Social Security has already reduced your benefit rate, though, since you are apparently not yet receiving any benefits. Nonetheless, if you are eventually awarded retroactive STRS payments as a result of your appeal, Social Security wouldn't claim your STRS back pay but instead would then apply any WEP reduction retroactively. So, the fact that Social Security has already reduced your benefit rate end up preventing an overpayment of benefits that you'd eventually be asked to repay anyway.

The WEP regulations state that a WEP reduction is applicable effective with the first month that the person is entitled to both Social Security benefits and their non-covered pension. 'Entitlement' is defined as follows: "An individual is entitled to a pension when he or she has applied for benefits and has proven his or her rights to benefits for a given period of time." (https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0300605360). Apparently, Social Security is considering your filing for an STRS pension based on disability as entitlement.

I don't have enough information to know whether or not Social Security's action to reduce your benefit rate is correct. For example, if your appeal for STRS disability benefits is denied, would you then have the option of claiming retroactive retirement benefits? If so, then Social Security's decision to reduce your benefit rate is probably correct. If you think their decision may be wrong, though, you may want to consider filing an appeal (https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10041.pdf). That can be done by completing a form SSA-561 (https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-561.pdf), which you could then either mail or deliver to your nearest Social Security office. Be advised, though, that if your Social Security appeal is successful and your benefit rate is increased, you'll likely be overpaid if you subsequently win your STRS appeal and are awarded retroactive benefits.

Best, Jerry