CEA continues the important work of ensuring a fair, secure retirement for its members, and a major goal at the federal level is repealing the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision (GPO/WEP). As your elected officials debate the issue in Congress this coming year, hearing your side of the story can influence how they vote.
Behind the times
GPO and WEP—federal laws enacted decades ago—create unfair financial hardships for many teachers by reducing or entirely eliminating Social Security benefits that teachers and their spouses should receive upon retirement.
Connecticut teachers contribute to a state pension system rather than Social Security, but a number of educators have had prior careers during which they paid into Social Security. Many also work second or third jobs where Social Security contributions are subtracted from their pay. In fact, a 2021 national survey of classroom teachers conducted by the nonpartisan Teacher Salary Project found that 82% of educators have taken on multiple jobs over the course of their teaching careers, and more than half (53%) are still working those extra jobs. Despite paying into Social Security for years through their non-teaching jobs, educators in Connecticut and 14 other states—as well as other state, county, and municipal employees—see their benefits cut or eliminated.
“As teacher shortages reach crisis levels across the nation,” says CEA President Kate Dias, “it’s more important than ever to repeal these penalties.”
Bills before Congress, including proposals put forth by Connecticut Congressman John Larson and Senator Richard Blumenthal and supported by Connecticut’s entire congressional delegation, would repeal GPO and WEP as well as expand and strengthen Social Security benefits.
“Not only would these proposals make a tangible difference for current and retired educators,” says Dias, “but they would also bring more people into the profession. Think about it. How many talented people coming from other fields or straight out of college feel like they can’t consider teaching as a profession because it doesn’t allow them the full retirement benefits—either their own or spousal benefits—that they would receive if they pursued nonteaching careers?”
Impact on women
To add to the problem, GPO and WEP disproportionately disadvantage women, who make up most of the teaching profession as well as the overwhelming majority of surviving spouses who are denied pension benefits.
“I’ve spoken to a number of teachers in southeastern Connecticut, where I live and where I taught,” says CEA-Retired Secretary Pat Jordan. “I’ve found that many were military wives who moved around the country before settling in this area. They would embark on teaching careers and perhaps not be able to work long enough to get vested pension rights. When their spouses died, their benefits disappeared. Our members have contacted their legislators asking for help as well as thanking them for their continued support of our efforts.”
Boots on the ground
In the early 2000s, Jordan served on NEA’s Board of Directors and worked as part of an NEA cadre to repeal GPO/WEP. Since that time, a number of measures aimed at repealing GPO/WEP have been proposed.
“Within Connecticut, we launched an online petition in support of the repeal,” she says. “It was taken to Washington and presented to legislators at a rally. At every county council, I reported on our progress and collected personal anecdotes regarding how GPO/WEP was affecting our members. These were used when we lobbied on Capitol Hill.”
Dias has established a committee to work on the GPO/WEP in Connecticut, and CEA-Retired President Bill Murray has asked Jordan to serve on that committee.
“I invite all of my active and retired colleagues to participate in this latest push,” Jordan says.