1. Archive

Withholding determines Social Security benefits

Published Oct. 1, 2005

My husband, who is a retired federal government employee with 35 years of service, tells me he will never receive Social Security although he paid into this system for many years. The problem, as I understand it, is that if he were to draw both a federal pension and Social Security, he would be "double-dipping." This does not seem right to me. It seems to me that if the government is not going to give him a benefit that he paid for, it should at least refund what he paid in with interest. Is my husband incorrect about his ineligibility for Social Security benefits?

A. The retirement benefits for federal employees who were hired before Jan. 1, 1984, are covered by the Federal Civil Service Retirement System. Since this system is in lieu of Social Security benefits, there would have been no withholding for Social Security.

Retirement benefits of federal employees hired after Dec. 31, 1983, are covered under the Federal Employees Retirement System. Employees hired after Dec. 31, 1983, are covered by Social Security. This new retirement system would require the federal employee to pay into Social Security and the Federal Employees Retirement System.

Federal employees who were hired before Jan. 1, 1984, had the opportunity to elect to transfer to FERS if they had more than five years of creditable service as of Dec. 31, 1983. In such event, a federal employee hired before Jan. 1, 1984, would be covered under FERS and Social Security.

It is possible that your husband, who was employed before 1983, elected to be covered under FERS and Social Security. In such event, your husband would be entitled to a federal retirement check and a Social Security monthly benefit. If your husband did not elect to be covered under FERS, your husband would only be entitled to receive Social Security benefits if he also worked at a second job where Social Security taxes were withheld for the sufficient amount of quarters. However, there would be an offset from his Social Security benefit due to the Windfall Elimination Program.

Since your husband was employed before Jan. 1, 1984, he should call the district office of the Social Security Administration for an appointment to obtain an explanation of his benefits. The telephone number is (800) 772-1213.

Q. My mother suffered a stroke last year. She is no longer eligible for home health care but remains very weak. My mother is a widow and there is no one at her home to assist her. I would like to take some time off from my job and assist her until she becomes stronger. I understand I may have the right to keep my job even if I take time off to attend to a family member. Is this true?

A. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 permits a person with certain family-related medical reasons to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and return to the same or equivalent employment. This law applies only to employers with 50 or more employees and to public agencies regardless of the size.

This type of family leave applies to the care of immediate family members with serious health conditions. An immediate family member is defined under the act to be a spouse, child or a parent.

A serious health condition is defined as an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves in-patient care in a hospital, hospice or residential medical care facility; or continuing treatment by a health care provider.

An employee may elect or be required to substitute paid vacation leave or sick days for time taken under this act for a medical condition.

_ Gregory G. Gay is an attorney in Pasco County who specializes in elder law. You can write to him c/o Seniority, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.