By Steve Kofahl
The President’s Budget released February 2, for the fiscal year that begins on October 1, 2015, would amend the Defense of Marriage Act to require the Social Security Administration and other agencies that administer programs in which marriage is a factor, to consider an individual as married if the marriage is valid in the state where that marriage occurred.
If Congress passes this provision, many more gay and lesbian spouses and survivors will finally be afforded their equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. Soon after the Supreme Court’s June 26, 2013, decision in Windsor vs. United States, SSA began paying benefits to some gay and lesbian spouses, based on guidance from the Department of Justice. However, many benefit applications were held and not processed while the Agency sought further guidance. The amendment to DOMA would allow these claims to be processed. We wish that the President had acted more quickly, but now we must put the heat on Congress.
The proposed Budget also provides for reallocation of reserves from the Old Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund to the Disability Insurance Trust Fund to balance the funds and allow full payment of benefits through 2033. This counters the action of the House of Representatives to block reallocation for the first time in history, which would cut benefits for disabled individuals and their children by 20% as soon as next year.
The President’s request also would boost total budget authority to administer SSA programs by $732 million, while adding 1506 work years (staffing and equivalent overtime hours). That would allow the Agency to reduce the record 1 million + pending disability claim hearing requests, cut telephone and field office visit waiting times, and hopefully keep SSA from closing more offices.
These are positive developments. On the “we better keep vigilant side”, the President has staked out a position of no “drastic” cuts to Social Security benefits. “Drastic”, as we know, is in the eyes of the beholder.
The President was proposing a “grand compromise” in the past. The Chained CPI or raising the retirement age may not be considered drastic in beltway mentality. We have to stay vigilant. For now, the President has made his proposal. We will see what the Congress has in mind within the next few months. At that time, we will know what kind of a fight we will have to wage.
Steve Kofahl is President of AFGE 3937 and a member of the PSARA Executive Board.