Following a letter from U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-1), the Social Security Administration (SSA) has adopted a streamlined waiver process to address errors in SSA’s treatment of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries in same-sex marriages. The October 26, 2015 letter sent by the Members of Congress urged Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn W. Colvin and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to make sure that the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage decisions are implemented and do not penalize individuals due to SSA’s delayed implementation of the law following the Supreme Court’s U.S. v. Windsor, and Obergefell v. Hodges decisions.
SSA has responded by adopting a streamlined waiver process that identifies SSI beneficiaries in same-sex marriages who were affected, presumes a waiver has been requested for each beneficiary, and presumes that these individuals are without fault.
“In our country, it is now the law of the land that all legal marriages should be treated equally, and there is no excuse for federal agencies to delay fulfilling the promise of landmark Supreme Court decisions that meant so much to so many loving families,” said Senator Murray. “I’m glad that the Social Security Administration is now taking steps to administer benefits fairly to same-sex couples, and I will continue working with Senator Cantwell and Congresswoman DelBene to ensure the Social Security Administration correctly accounts for marital status and waives recovery of the overpayments made in Washington state and around the country.”
“SSA should not penalize people who are poor, elderly or disabled because SSA continued issuing benefits to these married individuals as though they were single,” said Senator Cantwell. “We must continue to fight all forms of discrimination that LGBT people continue to face.”
“Same-sex couples shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to access the benefits they’ve earned just because the Social Security Administration made a mistake,” said Congresswoman DelBene. “SSA has acknowledged their error and providing a streamlined process for these LGBT individuals would go a long way in showing that the administration is committed to equality for all.”
The October 26, 2015 letter asked additional questions, including whether SSA had already recouped SSI overpayments from individuals in same sex marriages, and, if so, from how many people. More broadly, the letter asked what SSA is doing to update its systems so that it can correctly account for same-sex marriages and administer benefits fairly to all individuals. The Members of Congress await responses to those questions. Read SSA’s announcement here, and the text of the members’ October 26 letter here.
Additionally, following the Supreme Court’s ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, Senator Murray introduced, and Senator Cantwell and Rep. DelBene cosponsored, the Social Security and Marriage Equality Act, to ensure all same-sex spouses receive equal treatment under the Social Security Act when applying for Social Security benefits, regardless of where they live. Before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, eligibility for spousal benefits provided under the Social Security Act was determined by a place of residence standard. This standard resulted in applications for Social Security benefits for legally married same-sex spouses living in states that did not recognize same-sex marriage being placed on hold. In 2015, the Supreme Court held the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by the Constitution, and required all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions. This decision led to the Social Security Administration’s recognition of all same-sex marriages, regardless of their place of residence.