Q & A

Ask Rusty – Why Won’t Social Security Give Me My Widow’s Benefit?

Dear Rusty: I have been a widow since November 2019. I retired under the Federal Civil Service Retirement System. Before my husband died, I made an appointment with Social Security to see if I could receive his Social Security if he passed on. I was told I could. Since he passed, Social Security has adamantly refused to let me have my husband’s Social Security. I have had many problems with them. Who is correct here? I have lost $1400 per month. My social security check is about $126 per month. Signed: Frustrated Widow

Dear Frustrated Widow: First, please accept my condolences on the loss of your husband. Unfortunately, I don’t have good news for you.

Because of your Federal Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) pension, you are subject to the “Government Pension Offset” (GPO) provision of Social Security. The GPO reduces the survivor benefit for anyone who also has a pension from an employer which did not participate in Social Security (neither the employer or the employee paid into Social Security), and your Federal CSRS pension falls into this category. GPO reduces any survivor benefit you might otherwise be entitled to by 2/3rds of the amount of your CSRS pension, which often eliminates the survivor benefit. For clarity, GPO also applies to a Social Security benefit from a living spouse.

As you probably already know, your CSRS pension caused your own Social Security benefit, earned from other work outside of your Federal employment, to be reduced by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). Unfortunately, whoever you previously spoke with at the Social Security Administration prior to your husband’s death gave you some incorrect information, because you are also subject to the GPO. And that is why Social Security will not now pay you a survivor benefit from your husband.

I’m afraid you have no recourse on this, as both the GPO and WEP have been the law for decades. The Federal Government has now changed to a “Federal Employee Retirement System” (FERS) which fully participates in Social Security (both employees and the employer contribute to Social Security), so more recent Federal retirees are not subject to the WEP and GPO rules. But there are still many U.S. State and local government employers which, to varying degrees, do not participate in Social Security and whose employees are still impacted by both GPO and WEP.

This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website (amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory) or email us at ssadvisor@amacfoundation.org.


Comments On This Topic

  1. I called SS because my SS card was Stolen with my wallet she told me I need to send my Drivers licenses i told her that was stolen also she than told told me you are out of luck she would not answer any of my questions very nasty woman with the customers I ask to talk to her boss and she laughed and hung up on me now I cant get anyone to pickup the phone.

    • Jacqueline,
      Please note that this is a private website sponsored by The AMAC Foundation; this website is not affiliated with the Social Security Administration.
      Considering that much important information was in your stolen wallet, you should ensure you don’t become a victim of fraud by carefully monitoring your credit bureau files and credit cards, and to avoid identity theft. Of course if credit cards were in your wallet, you should contact the credit card companies to report the cards stolen to minimize your liability.
      Your experience at the Social Security Administration (SSA) is unfortunate, especially at a time of such distress for you. It sounds as though when you most needed assistance you were somewhat dismissed, but that was only one individual at the SSA and you will surely receive better treatment when you next contact them. As you know, you must deal with your State Drivers Licensing agency to replace your drivers license, and that should be your first step if you haven’t already done so. If you need a replacement Social Security card you can contact Social Security again (and speak to a different agent) to initiate that process, or (depending on the state you live) you may be able to easily get a replacement card by accessing your personal “My Social Security” online account. If you don’t already have an online account, you can easily create one at http://www.ssa.gov/myaccount. Once you have your online account you can simply request a replacement card from that account (note that there are still a few states in which you cannot request a replacement card online). Another possibility is to submit Form SSA-5 via the US Mail. SSA-5 is used to get a new card or a replacement card by submitting your request via the US mail. Here is a link to obtain form SSA-5: https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ss-5.pdf. As for getting “anyone to pick up the phone,” wait times are very long when contacting Social Security. You can call any SS office, such as the national service center at 1.800.772.1213, or any local office (find local office contact info at http://www.ssa.gov/locator. You don’t need to use only the office closest to where you live – all SS offices have access to the same information and can assist you.
      Russell Gloor
      National Social Security Advisor
      The AMAC Foundation

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