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Social Security Benefits: What MA Retired Teacher Found out the Hard Way

July 21, 2010

BOSTON - The Social Security Act turned 75 last week - but at least one retired Massachusetts teacher hasn't been celebrating. Peggy Kane taught English at Medford High School for 35 years and her husband worked in the private sector - until, at age 52, he was diagnosed with cancer.

"Previous to his dying, we had had a discussion and he was so proud of himself that he was going to be able to take care of me and the kids even when he wasn't here, because we would have his Social Security income. And he never knew that that wasn't true, and neither did I, at that time."

Kane has been working for the last ten years telling her story to others about provisions in the Social Security Act called the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), which reduce public employees' Social Security spousal or survivor benefits by two-thirds of their public pension amount.

According to Kane, her husband paid into Social Security for 26 years. However, because she worked as a teacher, she found she was ineligible to receive his Social Security benefits because of her own pension. The reason is the GPO, she says.

"It's saying that you have a 'windfall' to get two pensions, so to speak. But, in fact, the government has the windfall of getting my husband's Social Security money. You know, you plan your retirement, you think you've done everything right - and then, you find out that you actually are not getting what you think you're getting."

Federal legislation to repeal the GPO, called the Social Security Fairness Act of 2009 (S 484,) was co-sponsored by Sen. John Kerry and has bipartisan support, although to date it has been dormant in the Senate. Opponents of repealing the measure believe that, if public workers have pensions, they should not be entitled to receive Social Security benefits as well.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - MA