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BenefitsLink > Q&A Columns >

Stop, Look & Listen: Railroad Retirement Benefits Q&A

Answers are provided by Robert S. Kaufman

When a Spouse or Widow(er) Receives a "Public Pension"

(Posted November 13, 2000)

Question 73: My husband worked for the Milwaukee Road for more than 20 years. He retired and received Railroad Retirement. When he died two years ago, I was told that because I receive my own federal Civil Service annuity I cannot get a widow's benefit. This seems very unfair if it is true. Can you explain why?

Answer: Many years ago, Congress enacted a special reduction in Social Security and Railroad Retirement if a spouse or widow(er) receives his or her own "public pension". The term "public pension" includes pensions paid by federal, state and local governments (including those paid to school teachers).

The reduction is equal to 2/3 of the public pension amount. So, if 66-2/3 percent of your Civil Service annuity is more than your widow's benefit, you cannot receive one under Social Security.

The "public pension" reduction is designed to put spouses who worked outside of the Social Security and Railroad Retirement systems in the same position as those who did. Those individuals cannot receive the full value of two benefits; in effect, they only receive the highest one.

(As a matter of fact, I receive a Civil Service annuity too, so I will not receive any benefits based on my wife's Social Security.)

Many people feel this is an unfair reduction. Various retiree groups have attempted-- without success-- to get Congress to repeal it.

Important notice:

Answers are provided as general guidance on the subjects covered in the question and are not provided as legal advice to the questioner or to readers. Any legal issues should be reviewed by your legal counsel to apply the law to the particular facts of this and similar situations.

The law in this area changes frequently. Answers are believed to be correct as of the posting dates shown. The completeness or accuracy of a particular answer may be affected by changes in the law (statutes, regulations, rulings, court decisions, etc.) that occur after the date on which a particular Q&A is posted.

Copyright 1997-2017 Robert S. Kaufman
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