Double dip day

Texas teachers are leaping through a loophole to boost retirement pay: A teacher who works for one day as a janitor, or in another school job covered by Social Security, becomes eligible for spousal benefits equal to half the spouse’s Social Security check. AP reports:

Thousands of Texas teachers have rushed to retire before a lucrative loophole in Social Security law closes, but there’s one catch: They must first spend a day washing windows or scrubbing floors.

Most Texas teachers do not pay into Social Security and instead participate in a state pension fund. But the loophole allows them to receive Social Security benefits if their last day of work before retirement is in a job covered by Social Security.

School districts around the state helped teachers by hiring them to work janitorial or maintenance jobs for just a day. The loophole ends today.

In the future, it will take five years of covered work to be eligible for Social Security spousal benefits.

About Joanne


  1. Fletcher says:

    This is pathetic. No wonder welfare states around the world are stretched to the breaking points. The US is no different, just a bit farther back on the curve than the rest.

  2. A couple of minor details that should be noted here.

    First, the five year rule that was mentioned at the end is good only for the next five years. After that, it goes away.

    Second, and more importantly, is the reason teachers are doing this. It isn’t to get benefits that they haven’t paid in for. It is so that they can get a return on benefits they and their spouses HAVE paid in for. You see, our teacher’s pensions are considered to be a “windfall” by the federal government, and so benefits on any non-school jobs that paid into social security are essentially taken away. Worse yet, spouses are faced witht he choice of taking TRS survivor benefits or their own Social Secuity benefits, because one will cancel out the other. That means the Social Security money taken out of my check for work at a private college, as well as the years I taught in a Catholic school, count for nothing.

    Frankly, this scares me. My wife is about to apply for Social Security Disability due to a degenerative condition. When I die (many years from now, I pray), will she have to choose between her benefits as my widow (paid for out of my check all these years) and her Disability check?

  3. Rita C. says:

    We have the same deal in Missouri. Teaching pensions are pretty good, but they’re not that good. Why should I be denied spousal benefits just because I’m a teacher? You betcha I’d work as a janitor for a day. Good for that school district.

  4. Fletcher says:

    The inter-generational war between those who get undeserved social security benefits, and those who will never get any social security benefits–but are paying for the others–could get very nasty.

  5. Yes, but the point is that the teachers aren’t asking for anything that isn’t allowed for other government groups with similar types of benefits. ‘Double dipping’ is a way of life for most government workers – but not if you’re a teacher.

    I don’t blame the teachers for working the system. They have to look out for themselves, since no one else is going to do it for them.

    Interestingly, there is one of these districts right near me here in Texas: Sweeny ISD. Retiring teachers paid $500 for the privilege of cleaning toilets or scrubbing floors for one day. Sweeney is one of the districts that is getting royally scr*wed by the ‘Robin Hood’ law; this is one way they’ve been making money over the last year, to the tune of 2743 people in the last year. At $500 a person, that’s somewhere around $1.3 million; Robin Hood took about $10 million away from the distrit in the same time period.

    Check out the story in this link to my local paper:

  6. jeff wright says:

    Although I am not personally affected by the windfall provisions of the Social Security Act, I know lots of people who are—typically older federal employees covered by the old civil service retirement system, meaning they did not contribute to Social Security. For about the past 20 years, feds have made FICA contributions, so this issue will eventually go away. I and several retired feds I know do independent contracting work for the fed. Every year, at tax time, we do the Schedule Cs and “contribute” both employer and employee shares to Social Security. Non-issue for me because, with the exception of teaching work, I’ve been in the system for my entire working life.

    However, my buddies—typically retired from the FBI and other federal agencies—get really hot every April 15. Inasmuch as they’re covered by another retirement system, they will never see any ROI on those $$ they are sending in to Social Security. As Texas Teacher points out, this is wrong. IMO, if you’ve paid in, you ought to at least be able to recover your contributions. The problem is that there is such a minor difference between minimum and maximum Social Security benefits that those who’ve gotten 40 quarters of covered, part-time work at the 7-11—making small contributions all the while—wouldn’t get a whole lot less than those who’ve made max contributions for many years. Thus, the “windfall” law. IMO, there is some justice to it, but, as noted, people should at least be able to get their contributions back, with interest.

    Now, as to this issue of spousal benefits as outlined in this particular story. On the face of it, this is one of the most egregious abuses of the system of which I’ve heard. Folks, the spousal benefit is aimed at NON-WORKING spouses who, as the theory goes, sacrificed his/her potential career for the betterment of the family unit. How in the world this particular benefit can somehow be extended to cover someone who had a professional career and who is covered by an oftentimes generous retirement system of his/her own is beyond me. You teachers, you can rationalize hopping on this gravy train all you want. This is just wrong.

    Now that I know about this, I’m going to pose some very pointed questions to some nice persons in Congress.

  7. John from OK says:

    Let me get this straight: because one is denied the opportunity to pay 12.4% on almost everything they earn, only to be lucky to even get back the prinicipal, and instead must invest in a real pension plan with cumulative returns,

    sorry — it’s obvious.

  8. Stop feeling sorry for yourselves. I’m only 31, and I’m sure I’ll never see a dime of the social security dollars I’ve paid in over the years. Be thankful that you have a pension/retirement plan and don’t have to depend on social security to make ends meet. By the way, what kind of lesson are we teaching our children and students when we “screw over” the government just because it “screwed over” us? As they say, what goes around, comes around. You people need to get a life or get a part time job!!

  9. Also, the woman mentioned in the article is going to work part-time at a private school next year. I don’t think they are going to be shipping her off to the poorhouse any time soon. She is yet another example of why social security is going down the tubes. If anyone doubted that we live in a “me” generation, read the last sentence of the article. It’s a real eye-opener. By the way, not everyone is fortunate enough to retire at the ripe ol’ age of 54. My father (who has been paying into social security his entire working life) will retire next year, if all goes well. He’ll be 63, and I know that his job is a hell of a lot more physically demanding than moving furniture for one day. Of the two, who do you think is most deserving of receiving their social security benefits? Oh, that’s right. She never paid into the system; she’s just playing the system. I guess I answered my own question.

  10. Rita C. says:

    Well, h, I’m not feeling sorry myself. I am feeling a little unhappy that all that social security deducted from my checks over the years was for nothing, though. (If SS is still around when I hit 65.)

  11. Rita C., there is a simple solution. Stop teaching and become a janitor. You’d have the best of both worlds. You could still work in a school setting and draw your precious social security. I don’t mean to get personal, but how much social security have you paid in over the years? I too am a Missouri teacher, and I know that I haven’t paid into social security since I became a teacher. I also know that our pension/retirement plan is a whole lot better than most. I’m just curious as to how many dollars you think you’re missing out on.

  12. Mike in Texas says:

    This article doesn’t fairly state the way the system is set up, it merely makes it look like teachers are trying to shaft the government.

    Here’s the way it really is: My wife pays in to the SS system. If she were to die, I would only receive a third of the normal spousal benefits because I am a teacher. In other words, the government will screw me to the tune of 2/3s of the money I was due as a spouse. However, if I sat on my butt all day and did nothing I’d get all of it.

    Basically, these teachers are trying to get around an unfair tax on them just b/c they are teachers. Call it the “teacher tax”

  13. Rita C. says:

    h — Teaching (which I love and is precious to me — I find it odd that you would equate being a janitor with being a classroom teacher) is not my first career. I paid into social security for about 15 years before becoming a teacher. And I agree that my pension is good. I’ll come in at the lower end of it just because of my age (unless I want to teach until I’m 90), but even the lower end is good.

  14. Mike in Texas – Maybe my take on things is simplistic, but here is how I look at it. You are trying to get money because of what your SPOUSE paid into the system. That’s not quite the same as paying in yourself and getting shortchanged.

    Rita C. – I am in no way placing janitors and teachers on the same level. I was just trying to make the point that you could still be in a school setting (albeit from a different perspective) and draw the social security you paid in. I too came to teaching after another career, so we are in the same boat. The only difference is that I’m not all that upset about what I’m “losing” in the form of social security. My current pension/retirement plan is 1000 times better than my previous one. By the way, my previous one was social security only.

  15. Fletcher says:

    Social security is a welfare program, it is definitely not an insurance program.
    People collecting benefits now are taking money out of the pockets of people who are working now.
    The money is not what they paid in. It’s never what they paid in. It’s always a tax on people currently working.
    So people on SS now will collect more than they ever paid in, and young working people who are paying their way will never see a fraction of what they are paying now.
    It’s a pyramid scheme and unless it is privatized and put on a sound basis it’s going broke.
    People who try to stiff the system, as in Texas, are helping it go broke all the faster.

  16. John Doe says:

    Obviously everone exempt from Social Security should be forced to join. Also, indexing benefits to inflation, not wages, would save trillions of dollars in the future.

  17. h — You are fundamentally wrong. Whatever the school district does it does for ALL employees, not just the teachers. Thus the school secretaries are not covered by SS either, but by TRS. Only if the district makes an affirmtive decision to opt into SS does a single employee pay in — but in such cases ALL pay in. A few, such as the ones mentioned, pay into both, which is how the exception worked.

  18. Rita C. says:

    h — TexasTeacher is right — non-licensed employees in my district are in PRS, not social security. In any case, I’m interested in why you think my entire professional life revolves around the issue of money. Obviously, I knew about this problem before I went into teaching. I’m not happy about it. I don’t like paying for nothing. Stating this does not mean I’m not happy with my choice to be a teacher. Being a teacher is about much more than working in a school building. Sheesh. If you are a teacher, you of all people should know that.

    And anyway, I have other investments for my retirement. You should, too.

  19. Rita C. — I don’t mean to insult you, but when I hear people say (or insinuate) that it’s not the money but the principle…it’s usually the money. Sorry if I got the wrong impression, but in your initial post you said that you would gladly work as a janitor for one day if it meant being able to draw spousal benefits. I believe your closing words were “good for that school district.” I see no reason to do something so drastic or to hold such views other than for the money involved. Wanting money doesn’t detract from your desire to teach or dedication to teaching. If it did, we’d all be in trouble. As far as the whole teaching being more than a school building. I was being intentionally over-the-top. Sorry if it created confusion. You’re right when you say that I know you have to get into teaching for reasons other than the money. I’m also glad to hear that you have prepared for your future. Perhaps things will change to suit both our needs in the future. Until then, it looks like we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.

    TexasTeacher — You win this round, my friend. No, seriously, I hadn’t considered the idea that school districts treat all employees the same. On that note, you make an excellent point.

  20. And the fact that his same “windfall” provision strikes at the lowest paid workers in education is particularly unconscienable. The non-certified employee (secretary, bus drivee, janitor, etc) is the least likely to make a career working only for school districts. Imagine the financial screwing they end up with at retirement.

  21. Mike in Texas says:


    Ok, then let me put it in terms you may understand.

    Your spouse has a savings account he/she regularly puts money in. You however do not have a savings account at that bank so when your wife dies the bank punishes you for not having an account with them by taking 2/3 of the money your spouse had saved. This is what the govt is doing to some teachers.

  22. jeff wright says:

    Teachers, you don’t really understand the real world. If I, covered by social security, kick off before she does, my wife, also covered by social security (a retirement just like you have through teaching), gets nothing based on my contributions because her retirement income will exceed the spousal benefit. Zip. Nada. Nothing. This addresses Mike’s savings account parallel: I put it in all those years, am entitled to the max, but she won’t see it. No double-dipping allowed.

    So exactly what is it that entitles someone covered by another retirement plan to spousal benefits, which, as I mentioned in an earlier post, were designed for non-working spouses, with no retirement income of their own? Are the taxpayers just supposed to forget about your other retirement income?

    This is a rip-off, pure and simple.

  23. Mark Odell says:
  24. jeff wright says:

    Interesting. No teachers came back. Guess they’re all gone for the long weekend. Would’ve like to have heard more from them defending this practice.