Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators
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TRS and Social Security

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) provides lifetime retirement benefits to all eligible public school employees in Texas through a defined-benefit plan. TRS also provides healthcare coverage through the TRS-Care insurance program for retirees and the TRS-ActiveCare program for active educators. TRS is a state agency that falls under the authority of the Texas Legislature and is subject to a periodic sunset review. The TRS Board of Trustees oversees the agency and implements directives from the Legislature. ATPE monitors the agency year-round and works with the TRS board and staff to provide public school educators the retirement they deserve. ATPE is also a major stakeholder in legislative negotiations on TRS matters.

ATPE has long advocated for the state to provide the funding needed to sustain a defined-benefit pension plan for public school employees that is actuarially sound and sufficient for them to enjoy a secure retirement. ATPE members also believe public school employees deserve access to high-quality health insurance benefits fully funded by the state.

Texas educators’ retirement benefits are also affected by Social Security laws at the federal level. Because of the existence of a state retirement program in Texas, most school districts in our state do not participate in Social Security. Public employees who are eligible for a government pension—such as that provided by the TRS—and also eligible for Social Security benefits are subject to two offset rules that can reduce their federal benefits upon retirement:

  • The Government Pension Offset (GPO) affects the amount of spousal or widow/er benefits available to a TRS participant. Social Security was designed in a manner to allow individuals, especially those who do not work and pay into Social Security, to benefit from the Social Security earnings of their spouse and to receive a widow/er benefit upon the death of a spouse. The law was meant to protect dependent individuals who did not have their own income from employment and therefore were reliant on the earnings of their spouse. Certain “dual entitlement” provisions were added to the law to prevent individuals from drawing both their own Social Security benefits and the benefits earned by their spouse. To address dual entitlement that was perceived as “double dipping,” the GPO was created to prevent public employees who do not pay into Social Security, including many educators, from being treated as dependent spouses for purposes of the federal benefit while also drawing a state pension. The GPO reduces, and, in some cases, wholly eliminates, the spousal benefit that would otherwise apply to an educator who receives a TRS pension.
  • The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) also reduces many public employees’ Social Security benefits. Although most school districts do not pay into Social Security, there are some that contribute to both Social Security and TRS, resulting in earnings for their employees that may qualify for Social Security benefits. Additionally, many educators are eligible for Social Security benefits by virtue of previous employment in which contributions were made to Social Security. For these individuals, their Social Security earnings are often lower than their earnings from non-covered employment, such as working in public school that does not pay into Social Security. The WEP was intended to prevent such individuals with smaller contributions to Social Security from being classified as low-income workers who might otherwise qualify for a larger benefit because of the way Social Security was designed. For educators participating in TRS or a similar government pension program, the WEP unfairly and arbitrarily reduces the formula used to calculate the amount of Social Security benefits that individual may be eligible to receive upon retirement.

ATPE has been pushing multiple pieces of legislation at the federal level urging Congress to repeal the Social Security offsets that reduce many educators’ retirement benefits. Bipartisan bills are pending that would repeal and replace the WEP with a more equitable formula and provide additional payments to retirees already affected by the offset.

Read our member-adopted ATPE Legislative Program to learn more about our positions on TRS and Social Security. Find additional information about ATPE’s advocacy efforts related to these issues on our Teach the Vote blog.