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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

Retired postal worker will run into double-dipping law

Would a retired post office worker who receives

Would a retired post office worker who receives a civil-service pension qualify for Social Security benefits? Photo Credit: iStock

DEAR CARRIE: In 2008 I retired from a post office job after 36 years. I receive a civil service pension and was told I wouldn't qualify for Social Security benefits because I didn't have to pay into the system. But for the past seven years I have worked in the private sector and have been paying Social Security taxes. When I retire again, will I be able to get Social Security benefits? The management team at the post office said it was highly unlikely. -- Retirement Deja Vu

DEAR RETIREMENT: You could be eligible if you work for at least 10 years in a job that requires you to pay Social Security taxes, said attorney Troy Rosasco of Turley Redmond Rosasco & Rosasco in Ronkonkoma.

The amount you receive will be based on the Windfall Elimination Provision, which President Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1983 to reduce the Social Security benefits granted to government retirees whose primary jobs didn't require them to pay into Social Security. The provision's aim is to eliminate so-called double-dipping.

Before the law's passage, those workers' Social Security benefits based on secondary jobs were calculated as if the recipients were low-wage earners, the Social Security Administration's website says. Since Social Security benefits are progressive, meaning that lower-wage workers receive a higher percentage of their pre-retirement earnings, the government retirees were entitled to the best of both worlds: their regular government pensions and high-percentage Social Security benefits.

"Congress passed the Windfall Elimination Provision to remove that advantage," Social Security's website says.

But you might be able to blunt some of the provision's bite if your government pension is considered low wage.

"The good news is that if such workers have a relatively low government pension, their Social Security benefit will never be reduced by more than 50 percent of their government pension," Rosasco said.

If you plan to work at least 10 years in your private-sector job, Rosasco suggests that you contact the Social Security Administration to find out how the Windfall Elimination Provision may affect you.

DEAR CARRIE: My husband has accepted a new job out of state, and we will be moving shortly. So I will be leaving my job of 22 years. Do I qualify for unemployment benefits? If so, in which state do I apply? -- Moving Out

DEAR MOVING OUT: To determine if you are eligible, the department will look at whether you are leaving your job "with good cause."

And you're in luck.

"Quitting a job to move with a spouse who voluntarily relocates to accept new employment in a different locality is with good cause," the Labor Department's website says.

It's also considered "with good cause" if you quit to move with a spouse who is transferred, or with "a previously unemployed spouse who found work in a different locality," the department says.

On the other hand, "Quitting a job to move with a spouse who left the area for a personal, non-compelling reason (e.g. attendance at college) is without good cause," the department says.

Even if you quit your job for the right reason, you still have to meet certain salary and hours-worked thresholds to qualify for benefits.

As for which state to apply to for benefits, apply to New York, because that's where you worked.

For more information on "trailing spouses" go to this page on the New York Labor Department website

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