March 23, 2016

Sen. Warren and Rep. Takano Commend Social Security Administration for Taking Steps to Ensure SSI Beneficiaries in Same-Sex Marriages Are Not Penalized

WASHINGTON, DC - Following a letter from United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Congressman Mark Takano (D-Calif.), and 119 of their congressional colleagues, 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 not to penalize individuals due to SSA's delayed implementation of the law following the Supreme Court's Windsor decision. A class action lawsuit on behalf of these SSI beneficiaries in same-sex marriages also was filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), Justice in Aging, and Foley, Hoag, LLP.

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.

"The SSA's action goes a long way to make sure SSA doesn't penalize low-income elderly and disabled people for SSA's own mistake - its failure to recognize same-sex marriages after the Supreme Court's landmark marriage decision in 2013," said Senator Warren.  "SSA's announcement means that these legally-married couples will not have to jump through additional hoops to secure the remedy they deserve. SSA should take all necessary steps to ensure that those who already were denied waivers are treated fairly."

"The SSA is taking necessary and appropriate action to protect same-sex couples from being penalized for an error that was not of their own doing," said Rep. Takano. "Providing these couples a streamlined process for resolving this situation recognizes that they have been treated unfairly. I welcome the SSA's action and ask that they consider increasing their outreach to ensure everyone affected receives the support they need."

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.