Women government workers who hope some day to get a Social Security check based on eligibility established by their husbands (a so-called spousal benefit), in addition to their own U.S. pension, have at least months to escape from the pension offset rule that already applies to men.
Starting Dec. 1, women were supposed to be subject to the same offset rules as men. That rule reduces the Social Security spousal benefit a male government retiree can receive by the amount of his federal and public annuity.
One of the last actions of the lame duck Congress was to rescue women from the Dec. 1, 1982, deadline.
Congress exempted women from offset if they retire or are eligible to retire from government by next July 1. That means most government women retiring or eligible to retire by then will get full Social Security spousal benefits.
Congress applied the offset rule to men in 1977.
It said that any Social Security benefit husbands might get based on their wife's entitlement to Social Security would be reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount of the man's public pension.
In most cases, since the man's government annuity was larger than any spousal benefit he might receive, the effect of offset was to wipe out his Social Security spousal benefit altogether.
Women government workers were "grandmothered" in, that is, given an additional five years to either retire, or be eligible to retire, to escape the offset formula. It gave them until Dec. 1 to either retire or be eligible to retire and avoid offset.
But in the closing days of the recent Congress there was a new push to make the offset formula less harsh, or to continue to exempt women from its provisions.
Senate-House conferees settled on a compromise. It simply puts off any final action on women and offset until next year. That means women who thought they had been caught by the original Dec. 1, 1982, deadline now have almost eight months to meet the age-service requirements for retirement entitlement to be exempt from offset.
To avoid offset, women must either retire or be eligible to retire by July 1. Women who can't qualify will be subject to the same pension offset rule as men unless Congress again changes the rules or extends the deadline.
To avoid being subject to offset, women becoming eligible to retire after Dec. 1, 1982, must prove they were dependent on their husbands (generally speaking that his income was larger than hers) prior to retirement. Previously women did not have to meet a dependency test.
The subject is very complicated. And the deadline change is brand new. Most Social Security offices still have not gotten the word on the deadline change. So if you call them now, they will not know what you are talking about or perhaps tell you incorrectly that the deadline has passed. They will get the word eventually.
Meantime, Social Security offices do have a pamphlet that you should take a look at, if you think you may be subject to, or able to avoid, offset. It is called "Government Pension Offset--How It May Affect You." It is SSA publication No. 05-10007.
The information in it is correct, except for the deadline, which has been changed from December of this year to July 1, 1983.
Hats off to the National Treasury Employees Union for its effective lobbying in behalf of women on the issue!