Public Education Matters

Educators who have worked private sector jobs before or during their time as public employees – and those who are counting on survivor benefits from a spouse who worked a private sector job – are getting shortchanged. The Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision mean these educators get a fraction of the social security benefits they should. As retired teacher Judy Novak and OEA Secretary-Treasurer Mark Hill tell us, it’s time to change the law.

Show Notes

Working to repeal GPO/WEP - Season 3, Episode 17
Educators who have worked private sector jobs before or during their time as public employees – and those who are counting on survivor benefits from a spouse who worked a private sector job – are getting shortchanged. The Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision mean these educators get a fraction of the social security benefits they should. As retired teacher Judy Novak and OEA Secretary-Treasurer Mark Hill tell us, it’s time to change the law.

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Featured Education Matters guest: 
  • Judy Novak, OEA-Retired member
    • Judy Novak spent most of her 36-year career as a Special Education teacher in the Mansfield City Schools. She has been substitute teaching since 2014. Novak was recently appointed to serve on NEA's GPO/WEP advisory task force. 
  • Mark Hill, OEA Secretary-Treasurer
    • Mark Hill, first elected in spring 2018, is currently serving his second three-year term as OEA Secretary-Treasurer. He is a 30-year educator with Worthington City Schools, serving as a middle school math teacher. From 2010-2018, he served as president of the Worthington Education Association (WEA). In his freshman year as WEA president, he led his local in joining the successful repeal of Senate Bill 5 (SB5), an attack to collective bargaining. It was during this period he was twice elected to the STRS Board. Again, he demonstrated strong leadership in his roles as vice chair and chair respectively. Along with the board, he worked to bring long-term sustainability to the pension fund. His second 4-year term with STRS concluded August 31. 2018. Mark has also served as a member of the OEA Board of Directors and as chair of numerous Central OEA/NEA committees as well as chair of the OEA Resolutions Committee. Mark believes it is critical that OEA supports its local associations and their leaders because they shape members’ impressions of the value of membership. In these dynamic times, Mark’s experienced leadership will be vital as he directs OEA’s budget priorities toward an even stronger association.
Connect with OEA:
About us:
  • The Ohio Education Association represents about 120,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals who work in Ohio’s schools, colleges, and universities to help improve public education and the lives of Ohio’s children. OEA members provide professional services to benefit students, schools, and the public in virtually every position needed to run Ohio’s schools.
  • Education Matters host Katie Olmsted serves as Media Relations Consultant for the Ohio Education Association. She joined OEA in May, 2020, after a ten-year career as a television reporter, anchor, and producer. Katie comes from a family of educators and is passionate about telling educators' stories and advocating for Ohio's students. She lives in Central Ohio with her husband and two young children.
This episode was recorded on December 13 and December 20, 2022.

What is Public Education Matters?

Ohio's public schools serve 1.6 million children - 90 percent of students in the state! What happens in the classroom has impacts far beyond the walls of the K-12 school building or higher ed lecture hall. So, on behalf of the 120,000 members of the Ohio Education Association, we're taking a deeper dive into some of the many education issues facing our students, educators, and communities. Originally launched in 2021 as Education Matters, Public Education Matters is your source for insightful conversations with the people who shape the education landscape in Ohio. Have a topic you'd like to hear about on Public Education Matters? Email us at

Intro 0:07
This is Education Matters, brought to you by the Ohio Education Association.

Katie Olmsted 0:15
Welcome back to Education Matters. I'm your host, Katie Olmsted, and I'm part of the communications team for the Ohio Education Association and its 120,000 members. As the new year gets underway and a new Congress is getting seated, OEA members are being urged to contact their federal lawmakers about a very important issue: GPO/WEP. That's actually two laws, the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (or WEP) - both impacting how much social security public sector workers like educators can get when they retire if they also worked a private sector job that paid into Social Security sometime in their careers. It also affects people whose late spouses worked in a private sector job that would have otherwise entitled them to a certain amount of money in Social Security survivor benefits. Because educators in Ohio - and just over a dozen other states - don't pay into Social Security from their teaching or education support professional paychecks, they get hit hard by a decades old formula - the result of some guessing by Congress when the laws were passed - that leaves them with a fraction of what they would otherwise be owed. Judy Novak, who spent most of her 36 year career as a special education teacher in Mansfield City Schools is one of many, many retired educators who are losing out because of the GPO WEP issue in Ohio. We'll hear from her in just a little bit. But first, we asked OEA Secretary-Treasurer Mark Hill to help us really understand what's going on.

Mark Hill, a pleasure as always to sit down with you. What can you tell me about GPO/WEP?

Judy Novak 2:05
Yeah, so that's a pretty thorny topic. And there are two fairly complicated ideas. But I think if you looked at both of them, the essential question on both sides of each issue is what's fair. So WEP is stands for Windfall Elimination Provision, it was passed in the 1982 reform of Social Security back known as the Greenspan Commission. And the idea was, prior to that time, folks who worked both in non-covered positions -- in other words, like us. In 15, states, public employees do not pay into Social Security. It varies in each of the states, like Ohio, it's 97% of government workers do not pay into Social Security. And other states, it just depends on like mostly uniformed services, fire and police they have their own pensions or they are part of social security. So the Windfall Elimination Provision is if somebody works in a government position, where they are in a pension, that hasn't been where they were earned money that wasn't covered by Social Security, in part of their career, but in the beginning of their career, they worked in Social Security, the interaction of the benefits there is complicated, because there's a formula for Social Security and the benefits there. And then there would be a formula for their pension that they would get. And the formulas are way different. And what happens is, if somebody works in a non-covered position after working in a Social Security position for a certain number of years, typically if they work in Social Security earlier, they have a lower level of earnings. So at the end of their careers, it looks to Social Security, like you didn't make a lot of money for the benefit. And Social Security is a progressive formula. So it actually gives a higher level of benefit for lower levels of income. And then that level of benefit, proportional level of income reduces over time. So in other words, it favors people of lower income. And that should make sense because everybody has a basic level of subsitence that they need with housing and food. And that's a different percentage of income, whether you're a high income earner or a low income. So before the law was passed, people got both their pension from from whatever they got in government, and they got whatever they got in Social Security and it simply was added together. And that benefit was larger, by a lot in some cases, than they would have gotten if they were in social security there for their entire career. So as a measure to shore up the funding of Social Security back in the 80s, they passed this rule that reduces the amount of benefit you get based on your pension that you're getting from your government job that wasn't covered by Social Security.

Katie Olmsted 5:17
So end of the day, we're talking about people who worked for years in a Social Security eligible job, who, you know, then they went into teaching or some other public sector career, paid into that pension. They're getting their pensions now, and for all of that money they ever put into Social Security, we're talking about, you know, a pittance of what they put it paid into Social Security.

Judy Novak 5:40
Yeah, they are definitely are not getting their full Social Security benefit that they otherwise would have gotten. And a lot of that is because of the way the formula works. So the problem with the rule, and the reason that people are, is that it punishes lower and middle income, folks. So we are talking about our education support professionals who work in schools and cafeteria workers. My mom was was one of those folks. And then teachers, you know, especially in in parts of the of our state who have, you know, their salary schedules, especially maybe lower, like in the southeast portion of the state as well. They are disproportionately affected by the WEP. Yeah, for sure.

Katie Olmsted 6:24
Well, and how does that work for people, you know, especially those who are starting out as teachers or in any of our education professions - the bottom end of our salary scales is low. And a lot of educators have a second job, or sometimes even a third job. They're paying into Social Security while also paying into the pension system. Does that mean they're just throwing their money away?

Judy Novak 6:47
I guess essentially, it is, I mean, you know, there's two sides of this. One is the people that say the WEP should remain, you know, or, let's be clear, though, everybody agrees that the formulas are, you know, are imprecise, they're not fair. There's a full repeal, which were in favor of, you know, and there are others that say, a full repeal would be too expensive, and it would be unfair. Those folks say that, you know, the benefit they would have gotten is based on a lower level of income, so you wouldn't have gotten that much if you averaged out 35 years of lifetime income. Where where we come in is like, it really punishes, as you say, second career teachers and actually makes a job less attractive, and it punishes our ESPs, who, you know, may have worked in a Social Security position for a lot of years, and then they end up picking up work as a cafeteria worker or school secretary or bus driver. And for those folks, yeah, it is, it is a punishing move. And that's why we're in favor of full repeal.

Katie Olmsted 7:48
And now more than ever, we really need to be trying to make education a more attractive second career. We are dealing with recruitment and retention crises, both for our ESPs and for our teachers around the state. If you make it so that you lose your Social Security benefits by entering the education field, that's got to be kind of a hit against that.

Judy Novak 8:11
Sure. I mean, if somebody's thinking about retirement planning, and they are aware of this issue, it is going to make teaching less attractive, because it looks like well, I'm going to be in this pension. And I'm not going to get full benefits from the pension until a certain amount of time, and that's going to cut back on the Social Security that I could earn in retirement as well. So maybe I'll look somewhere else, because, you know, the monetary punishment on top of the stresses of the job, you know, make it far less attractive to folks who want to switch careers.

Katie Olmsted 8:42
So what's the GPO side of this?

Judy Novak 8:44
So the Government Pension Offset is a separate animal, and that is for people who get survival - survivor or spousal benefits from Social Security. So the Social Security limits the amount of money that a spouse or is - well, first of all, let's go back on that. Social Security was designed in 1936, when the primary model for folks in a household was that there was one breadwinner, and then a spouse at home, you know, not getting any benefits. So there was a Social Security spousal benefit for folks who, you know, were spouses who never worked in in jobs as kind of recognition that they maybe raised, you know, a family and took care of a house and the old model of how things work. And so you'd get a spousal benefit. But if somebody also worked, they would only they, the benefit they would get from their, from whatever their spouse was, was either their own benefit, or the spousal benefit, whichever was higher. So it's like you can't add them everything together, because you would end up earning more than then what you would get from the formula the paid in. So what the Government Pension Offset was tried to replicate that, for public sector workers who are not in covered positions with the same idea. It's called the dual income limitation. So it tried to replicate this dual income limitation for folks. So the issue is, though, government, people who get a government pension, there, it's just a two-thirds formula. So two-thirds, their social security benefit from a survivor, if they're the surviving spouse, and they get survivor benefits, their benefit is reduced by two-thirds of whatever pension they get from their government job. So for example, my mom, school secretary, my dad died and 2004. Afterwards, she was kind of expecting to get his social security survivor benefits. She did, but the survivor benefits were reduced by two-thirds of her pension from the School Employees Retirement System, which, you know, ended up being like $300 a month is what she got on top of that. Our argument is that the Government Pension Offset is unfair, because it punishes low and middle income workers in the formula. That two-thirds formula really takes away a lot more and, and really, it doesn't provide the same parity that that somebody working in a social security system, you know, and getting survivor benefits for that for the entirety of their career would have gotten. So that's that one.

Katie Olmsted 11:38
And at this point, Mark, I want to take a break from talking about what it is to really talk about how it impacts people. We're going to hear from Judy Novak. She is a retired educator who's now substitute teaching, who is getting the double whammy of having both paid into Social Security with their own paychecks with their second job, and also having the GPO problem with getting her husband's benefits. Let's take a listen.

Judy Novak, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. You retired in 2011. What have you been able to draw since then when it comes to those federal government benefits like Social Security and Medicare?

Judy Novak 12:23
I draw Medicare by paying my monthly fee for it. But I'm not drawing any Social Security money this time.

Katie Olmsted 12:30
But you are owed some Social Security money. You were paying into Social Security throughout your career. Is that correct?

Judy Novak 12:37
Yes, because I was working at other jobs along with teaching. But when my husband passed away, and I went up to see if I could get any benefits, I was told I could not get a widow's pension, because I was a teacher. And that I wouldn't be able to draw anything for my husband's social security because I was a teacher, and that mine would be very minimum. And the man at the time said, just, he gave me the advice that if I were you, I would hold off unless you really need that money, and see if they do away with the penalties on you. Yeah, so that's

Katie Olmsted 13:16
So you, you have a lot of eggs in that basket of our lawmakers really making the right decision and ending the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision (GPO/WEP). What went through your head when you went to the Social Security office to get that widow's pension and they told you you're not eligible?

Judy Novak 13:40
Well, I didn't even know that much about a widow's pension, just somebody mentioned it. And that surprised me that I wasn't even eligible to get that, because I was 60 at the time he passed away. So I was not eligible for any social security benefits at that time.

Katie Olmsted 13:54
What did your husband do for work?

Judy Novak 13:56
My husband was an inventor. And at the time, he, at the time he passed away, we were in the process of getting a manufacturing facility up and running. And his social security check was paying the lease monthly payments. So when he passed away, I had to close the factory down and we weren't able to pursue the business anymore.

Katie Olmsted 14:16
That must have been pretty devastating for you on top of your loss,

Judy Novak 14:20
Right. Yeah. But I could not do the - I could not run the factory because he knew all the scientific things. He invented a machine to break down tires into gas, carbon and other fuels that could be used in the environment.

Katie Olmsted 14:36
Fascinating. And more importantly, he he paid into Social Security, his entire working career, and he was drawing on those benefits so that he was able to fund himself in his retirement in this new venture. He paid into the program so that you would be taken care of when he passed away. What would he have thought if he had found out that you weren't eligible for that money?

Judy Novak 14:59
Well, I think he kind of knew that I wasn't going to get all of it. But he didn't know that I would get just like none of his that I would only be able to draw mine.

Katie Olmsted 15:10
Do you think that's fair?

Judy Novak 15:12
No, of course, it's not fair. I mean, because I could not survive when I taught before I got married on a teaching salary. I had to work another job in order to to pay rent.

Katie Olmsted 15:25
And in that job, you were paying into Social Security yourself.

Judy Novak 15:28

Katie Olmsted 15:30
So this is a story that I'm sure you are going to share when the NEA advisory cadre on GPO/WEP meets. What are your expectations for that?

Judy Novak 15:41
I'm hoping that they're going to be able to do some things that we can finally get rid of, of this penalty law.

Katie Olmsted 15:48
And it's not just about you, it's about all of the other educators who should be entitled to the payments coming out of the system that their families have been paying into, is that right?

Judy Novak 15:57
Correct. There are many, many teachers have second jobs, and summer jobs and everything. And we've paid into that money, so it should be ours.

Katie Olmsted 16:06
What would you say to somebody who says but you also get your pension through ftrs? Isn't that enough?

Judy Novak 16:12
No, it's not because I still paid into Social Security. So that's still my money.

Katie Olmsted 16:17
That's exactly right, Judy, I really appreciate you sharing your story and your continued advocacy around this issue. I think it's going to take all of us sharing stories like this so that our lawmakers in Washington understand the real impacts of GPO/WEP.

Judy Novak 16:31

Katie Olmsted 16:33
Judy, thank you so much.

Judy Novak 16:35
It was nice talking to you.

Katie Olmsted 16:39
Now back to Mark Hill, the Secretary-Treasurer of the OEA. We mentioned in that conversation with Judy there that she is going to be taking part in NEA'S GPO/WEP cadre. You are also part of that task force. What is that and what are you guys going to be doing?

Mark Hill 16:59
Eliminating the Windfall Elimination Provision/Government Pension Offset has been a long time policy for for any NEA. It's something that NEA has has favored full repeal of both for a great deal of time. The problem is, there's never been any action in either house of the legislature. When I have personally spoken to Congress folks on both sides of the aisle, they profess, yeah, I'm for full repeal, you know, because it affects - the Republicans, they tend to be more sympathetic towards uniformed services. You know, the Democrats tend to listen to their their benefactors, in terms of politics - but both of them have constituents that are affected by this issue. So they say they're for full repeal, but nothing is actually come to pass. But this, I think this issue has continued to boil as more two income earners are affected by it. And so we actually have a few bills, one of which got over 300 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, that's HR 82, the Social Security Fairness Act. And actually, there's a companion bill in the Senate sponsored by Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Both of those are full repeal of the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision. So, you know, over 300 co-sponsors in the house means that's a majority of the House. You know, both sides of the aisle have pitched into this issue. And so there's an actual possibility of, if not full repeal, reform coming coming down the pike. And the idea of this, this taskforce that we have is for representative members from the 15 state affiliates affected by by this, or most affected by it, would engage in lobbying of their Congresspeople to try to enact a change in the law and restore some fairness to the system.

Katie Olmsted 19:02
So what can the average educator or retired educator in Ohio do right now to help get this across the finish line?

Mark Hill 19:11
They should contactor their Congressman and both Senators. Of course, you know, we'll have a new senator, JD Vance; we'll have Sherrod Brown, our senator who's been there now senior senator from Ohio. Both of both of them need to be contacted to, to talk about and I would say, tell your personal story on that on how it affects you or how it affects somebody you know, and contact your Congressperson and tell them you want HR 82 to come back in the new Congress and to be passed.

Katie Olmsted 19:47
And that's the thing with this, it really does affect you or someone you know. Everybody in education in Ohio, just about, is touched by this issue.

Mark Hill 19:57
One out of 10 Ohioans is a public school teacher. So there's there's one thing, right.

Katie Olmsted 20:03
Well, Mark, thank you very much for helping explain this all to us.

Judy Novak 20:07
It's pretty complicated, so we could have done an hour on that.

Katie Olmsted 20:12
You can always go to OEA's website to learn more about where OEA stands on the issues and how you can help advocate around the issues that matter most to our students, educators and Ohio's public schools. The link is in the show notes to this episode. New Education Matters episodes drop every Thursday morning. Until next time, stay well.

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