POLITICS

Lawmakers Slam Social Security's Treatment Of Same-Sex Couples

Some couples are paying the price for the agency's lack of preparedness.
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) delivers remarks at the Center for American Progress in Washington U.S. July 13, 2016.
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) delivers remarks at the Center for American Progress in Washington U.S. July 13, 2016.

Thirty-eight U.S. senators and 83 U.S. Representatives on Monday sent a letter to the Social Security Administration grilling the agency over its treatment of married same-sex couples.

The group, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), specifically takes issue with the SSA giving legally married gay and lesbian couples incorrect payouts after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a section of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, then fining them.

While the agency worked to update its policies following the court's decision, the SSA continued to treat people in same-sex marriages as single individuals, resulting in higher benefit payouts. Now, the SSA wants those couples to pay it back.

For some time after the Supreme Court's Windsor decision, SSA continued to issue benefits to Supplemental Security Income recipients in same-sex marriages as though these individuals were single.

The letter highlights the experiences of Hugh Held and Kelley Richardson-Wright, who are both in same-sex marriages in California. More than a year after the Supreme Court's decision, they each received letters from the SSA informing them they'd received about $6,200 and $4,100 more, respectively, than they were entitled to, and would have to reimburse the agency for the overpayment. (After Held and Richardson-Wright took the matter to court, the SSA opted to waive their penalty.)

"We are concerned to hear that, for some time after the Supreme Court's Windsor decision, SSA continued to issue benefits to Supplemental Security Income recipients in same-sex marriages as though these individuals were single, and that for some SSI recipients, SSA is still doing so," the letter reads.

"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," it continues. "According to SSA's statute and regulations, SSA shall avoid penalizing an individual for overpayment if the individual is without fault and if recovery of the overpayment would be against equity and good conscience."

The letter asks the SSA to provide a count of how many individuals in same-sex marriages it has charged with overpayment, and what the agency has done to update its own systems "so that SSA can correctly take marital status into account and administer benefits fairly to all individuals."

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