Retirement 2.0blog

SSA starts paying benefits to married gay couples, but questions remain

Social Security encourages people to apply for spousal benefits even with uncertainties

Aug 9, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

By Mary Beth Franklin

The Social Security Administration announced today that is has begun processing and paying spousal retirement benefits to some married same-sex couples.

“The recent Supreme Court decision on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), made just over a month ago, helps to ensure that all Americans are treated fairly and equally, with the dignity and respect they deserve,” acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin said in a written statement.

Ms. Colvin said the agency is now processing “some” retirement spouse claims for same-sex couples and paying benefits “where they are due.”

Social Security spokesperson Kia Anderson confirmed that the agency is paying benefits in cases where the worker was married in a state that permits same-sex marriage and is living in one of those 13 states or the District of Columbia where gay marriage is legal.

Those states include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, plus the District of Columbia.

"For all other claims that do not meet this criteria, we are holding these claims until we receive further guidance from the Department of Justice," Ms. Anderson said in an e-mail responding to my questions.

In response to my question whether benefits would be paid retroactively to the date of the landmark Supreme Court decision on June 26, 2013, Ms. Anderson said no. "We do not consider or use the date of the [Supreme Court decision] to determine the date or month of entitlement" to Social Security benefits," she said.

Ms. Anderson explained that the agency is following its standard procedure for processing new and pending claims. "The month of entitlement is based on the date the application was filed," she said. "We encourage individuals who believe they may be eligible for Social Security benefits to apply now to protect against the loss of any potential benefits," Ms. Anderson said.

The agency expects to develop and implement additional policy and processing instructions in the coming weeks and months as it receives further guidance from the Justice Department.

I asked Social Security how many people have applied for spousal benefits under the newly approved gay marriage guidelines and how many of those applications have been approved. I'll let you know when I get an answer.

The Supreme Court's landmark ruling striking down DOMA on June 26, 2013, opened the door for married same-sex couples to reap the same Social Security benefits afforded traditional couples.

That means gay couples in states where marriage is legal would be entitled to spousal benefits during marriage and survivor benefits after the death of one spouse. If they have minor dependent children at the time one spouse claims benefits, the children may also be entitled to benefits.

And if one or both spouses wait until at least their full retirement age to claim benefits, they would be able to engage in creative claiming strategies as traditional married couples such as filing a restricted claim for spousal benefits or filing and suspending benefits. These strategies can be used to allow one spouse to collect benefits while the other continues to accrue delayed retirement credits in order to maximize lifetime income.

Hopefully I'll have more answers for you soon. In the meantime, make sure you sign up for my Social Security boot camp webcast on Tuesday, Aug. 20, at 4 p.m. EDT.

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