The True Figure (August/September 2016)

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By Marie Ardiito

Co-founder, Massachusetts Retirees United (


The most expensive words in a senior’s vocabulary are the words, “I thought.” Retirees must always ask the questions so the statement can be changed to, “I know.” 

Government does not always give all the facts. I have repeatedly told people that, by law, we are entitled to either our own Social Security or half of our spouse’s, whichever is greater. I have explained how the offset works and how, because our pension comes from MA (as is the case in 14 other states and some Federal pensions) that we have an offset number that deprives us of receiving any of this as a spousal or survivor benefit.

Losing half of a spouse’s Social Security is bad enough. Recently, I found out how that translates to a survivor benefit. Upon the loss of my husband, I received a boilerplate letter from Social Security expressing condolences on the loss and telling me what my benefits would be going forward. When I did the math, close to 93% of my husband’s Social Security benefit that he received after Medicare was taken out. A second letter told me that my Social Security would be the $103 a month I receive in my own right, not the amount of the first letter.

I learned that day that the amount of the GPO penalty was not the half of my spouse’s Social Security (as I had always thought), but that, as a survivor benefit, it translated to 93% of the amount. I went through all the information provided by Social Security on the GPO penalty and nowhere did they ever mention that.

As I read and reread the letter, I was angry, not about the money I was losing, but because I had not been told the truth as to the full extent of it. Also, for the first time I saw I was not the only one under penalty but my husband as well. He had worked hard all his life, and did not start collecting Social Security until in his 70s because he retired at the time before they allowed someone to collect their Social Security and their full salary once they reached their full retirement age. Even so, they did not give him a greater percentage of Social Security upon his retirement because they were going to deny him the right to leave a survivor benefit. They forced this on him as they force it on all of us who had no choice as to whether we would contribute to Social Security as well as to our pension.

I was angry at HR711, the law being proposed by Representative Brady of TX that would make an adjustment to those under the WEP penalty in the amount they receive and that completely ignores the GPO penalty. Maybe it is because well over half of those suffering from the GPO are women and men will receive the greater benefit of the WEP adjustment.

Social Security is not an entitlement. It is an earned benefit that the workers of America have earned for themselves and their spouses. I am tired of the little guy being shafted. I am tired of a government - be it local, state or Federal -not acting act out of a sense of fairness and justice. I am tired with only being provided with half truths or being fed out right lies.

I intend to do something about this and ask you to join in the effort before you receive the same letter I did.