By Mike Andrew
The Social Security Administration has announced new rules that will entitle some – but not all – same-sex spouses to the same benefits available to opposite sex spouses.
An August 9 statement from Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin said that the new guidelines came as a result of the US Supreme Court decision in USA v. Windsor, striking down Section 3 of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act).
“I am pleased to announce that Social Security is now processing some retirement spouse claims for same-sex couples and paying benefits where they are due,” Colvin’s statement said.
“The recent Supreme Court decision on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, made just over a month ago, helps to ensure that all Americans are treated fairly and equally, with the dignity and respect they deserve…
“In the coming weeks and months, we will develop and implement additional policy and processing instructions. We appreciate the public’s patience as we work through the legal issues to ensure that our policy is legally sound and clear. I encourage individuals who believe they may be eligible for Social Security benefits to apply now, to protect against the loss of any potential benefits. We will process claims as soon as additional instructions become finalized.”
As of August 9, a new section for “Windsor Same-Sex Marriage Claims” — named after the Supreme Court case — was added to the Social Security Administration’s Program Operations Manual System (POMS), the guidebook used by Social Security employees to process claims for Social Security benefits.
On retirement, married spouses are allowed to claim Social Security benefits based on their own income, or 50% of their spouse’s benefit, whichever is more.
After reaching full retirement age, a spouse may choose to receive only their spouse’s benefit, and delay receiving their own retirement benefits until a later date, allowing them to receive a higher benefit later based on the effect of delayed retirement credits.
A spouse may also collect survivor benefits from their deceased partner’s record beginning as early as age 60, or as early as age 50 in the case of disability.
However – and this is a big however – the Social Security Administration will limit payment of claims for same-sex married couples only to those couples who were legally married in a state that allows same-sex marriage and are “domiciled,” or live, in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages.
For example, a couple married in New York and domiciled in Washington get benefits, because both states allow same-sex marriages. A couple married in New York but domiciled in Florida, which does not recognize same-sex marriage, do not get spousal benefits
Claims from legally married same-sex couples currently living in a state that does not recognize their marriages will be put on hold for the time being, the Social Security Administration said.
Everyone who thinks they may have a claim should file for benefits as soon as possible, even if their claim is put on hold.
If SSA finds that benefits are, in fact, payable, they will pay benefits retroactively from the date the claim is filed, so it’s an advantage to have as early a date as possible on the application.
Contact the Social Security Administration right away, at 1-800-772-1213, if you believe that you may be eligible for benefits. You can also visit your local Social Security Office between 9 a.m. and noon on any Wednesday, or from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on one of the other four weekdays, except for Federal holidays.