Washington, DC - Social Security Matters by AMAC’s Certified Social Security Advisor C.J. Miles, Association of Mature American Citizens:
QUESTION: I want to know if it’s true that federal employees can retire early and get a pension and then still get Social Security after working only 10 years. Wouldn’t this have an impact on the solvency of the trust fund?
ANSWER: It is true, but it is not as simple as that. Government employees who get a pension do not just get Social Security in addition to their pension – they have to earn it like everybody else.
First of all, the “10 years” refers to how many years of work are required to be eligible for Social Security benefits. This is true for anyone, regardless of whether or not they are a government employee. It also needs to be understood that while working in government jobs that are paying these pensions, the person is not paying Social Security taxes. However, the 10-year requirement applies to 10 years of working in a job that does require Social Security tax payments. Many times teachers are in this situation because they work part of the year for the government and supplement their income over the summer working in a different job. So that general statement may make it seem like they did not “earn” their Social Security benefits, but they did because they paid Social Security taxes through other jobs.
Another thing that is important to know is that people who are eligible for both a government pension and Social Security benefits are subject to a reduction in their Social Security benefits due to a law called the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). WEP looks at how much the retiree is receiving from a government pension and from taxes paid into Social Security. What is key here is how many years are considered “substantial earnings.” Anything under 30 years results in a substantial reduction in the person’s Social Security benefit. If the retired government employee elects to receive spousal Social Security benefits, they will be affected by the Government Pension Offset (GPO), which is similar to WEP, but calculated differently. So either way, the person will receive a reduction in Social Security benefits.
Regardless of when the government employee retires, he or she will only receive Social Security benefits if they paid into the system for the required 10-year minimum, and even then, they will receive a reduced benefit.
QUESTION: There has been a lot of talk about Social Security running out of funding to pay benefits. Have they thought about not paying benefits to criminals? Is there any law currently on the books about this?
ANSWER: Actually, there are some laws about not paying criminals both Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. However, breaking the law in and of itself does not necessarily prevent someone from receiving a benefit payment.
Social Security benefits are suspended if someone is incarcerated for a criminal offense for more than 30 days. Benefits are reinstated once the person gets out of jail. During incarceration, dependents (i.e. spouses and children) can continue to receive payments. This rule applies to those who are found guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity, as well as those who are incompetent to stand trial, but are still held in an institution by court order at public expense.
In addition to incarceration, benefits are not be paid to someone who has an outstanding arrest warrant for felony offenses including flight to avoid prosecution or confinement, escape from custody and/or flight-escape. A person is also not eligible for benefit payments in any month that he/she violates a condition of probation or parole.
SSI benefit rules are slightly different. If someone receiving SSI is incarcerated, benefits will stop and can be reinstated at the time the person is released. However, if the person is incarcerated for more than 12 months, eligibility for SSI will completely terminate. Therefore, when the person is released, he/she will have to reapply. The person is allowed to reapply in prison if they have an expected release date to help speed up the process, but those benefits cannot begin until after the person has been released.