Sign Up to Receive Email Action Alerts From Issa Exposed
×

Sen. Boxer pushes for post-DOMA Social Security benefits fix

DOMA Repeal DOMA trials

By Jacob CombsBarbara Boxer

In a letter dated yesterday, July 1, California Senator Barbara Boxer urged the Social Security Administration to extend survivor benefits for same-sex couples regardless of their state of residence.

With the invalidation of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex spouses are now eligible to obtain Social Security benefits, but current policy looks to where a couple lives to determine eligibility.  From Boxer’s letter to Carolyn Colvin, acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration:

All federal agencies should endeavor to provide swift and equal access to programs and benefits for all same-sex couples, regardless of their state of residence, using existing administrative authorities.  In instances where remedies are not available through executive action and will instead require specific changes to existing law, I urge you to notify Congress immediately so that the legislative process to address these issues can begin.

Post-DOMA, same-sex couples are now eligible for a host of federal benefits, most of which are based upon which state a couple was married in.  For the determination of these benefits, a couple that married in California and moved to Oregon would still be considered married and eligible for federal benefits based on this criterion.

Other benefits, like Social Security Survivor benefits, are by statute based upon where a couple lives, not where they were married.  In this light, that fictional California couple would lose benefits based on this determination when they moved to Oregon.

Like Boxer, LGBT advocates have exhorted the Obama administration to interpret the Supreme Court’s ruling broadly and enact any policy changes  to ensure same-sex couples enjoy the maximum scope of benefits possible regardless of where they live.  So far, the administration has done so, although some benefits determinations are based in law, which can only be modified by Congress.

The clearest legislative solution would be the Respect for Marriage Act, which was re-introduced last week by New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Boxer’s fellow California senator, Dianne Feinstein.  The bill would promise married same-sex couples all federal benefits, even if they live in non-marriage equality states.

During his recent trip to Africa, President Obama expressed a desire to alleviate the complexities of federal benefits law for same-sex couples:

“It’s my personal belief — but I’m speaking now as a president as opposed to as a lawyer — that if you’ve been married in Massachusetts and you move someplace else, you’re still married, and that under federal law you should be able to obtain the benefits of any lawfully married couple. But I’m speaking as a president, not a lawyer.”

After the jump, the full text of Boxer’s letter, via the Washington Blade:

July 1, 2013

The Honorable Carolyn W. Colvin

Acting Commissioner

Social Security Administration

6401 Security Boulevard

Baltimore, MD 21235

Dear Acting Commissioner Colvin:

Until the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in last week’s historic United States v. Windsor ruling, federal law prevented the recognition of same-sex marriages for purposes of Social Security family and spousal benefits, resulting in the exclusion of millions of Americans from the same critical safety net programs that are made available to the families of heterosexual couples.

I have met so many surviving spouses and family members of same-sex relationships who struggle needlessly after the passing of their family members.  Access to Social Security benefits can often times mean the difference between keeping your home and losing it, or feeding your children and watching them go hungry.  Surviving spouses and children of same-sex marriages lose thousands of dollars in earned Social Security benefits every year because of the discriminatory policy mandated by the Defense of Marriage Act.

After last week’s Supreme Court ruling, I was pleased to learn that the Social Security Administration (SSA) took immediate steps to prepare for the changes that will be necessary to extend full federal benefits to all same-sex couples and their families.  The SSA should be applauded for issuing emergency instructions to all field offices directing them to accept applications from same-sex couples and hold them until specific instructions on how the Court’s decision will be implemented are determined.

I was also encouraged by President Obama’s comments indicating that he believes all legally-married same-sex couples should have access to the same benefits, regardless of where they chose to live.

All federal agencies should endeavor to provide swift and equal access to programs and benefits for all same-sex couples, regardless of their state of residence, using existing administrative authorities.  In instances where remedies are not available through executive action and will instead require specific changes to existing law, I urge you to notify Congress immediately so that the legislative process to address these issues can begin.

While I understand the SSA’s review of its legal authorities regarding same-sex couples must be comprehensive and thorough, I encourage you to work as expeditiously as possible for the millions of Americans who await your decisions.

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

2 Comments

  • 1. chad  |  July 2, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Are all of these agency level policy decisions something that Obama could be fixing with an executive order?

  • 2. Myp2p Football Streaming  |  September 4, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    I just like the valuable information you provide in your articles.
    I will bookmark your weblog and take a look at again here regularly.
    I’m moderately sure I will learn plenty of new
    stuff right right here! Good luck for the next!

Having technical problems? Visit our support page to report an issue!