How Do Social Security Disability Benefits Work For Same-Sex Marriages?

With repeal of part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Social Security Administration (SSA) now recognizes same-sex marriage when determining entitlement/eligibility for benefits.

Benefits for Which Same-Sex Couples May Qualify

Social Security must process the applications of and begin to pay benefits to married same-sex couples, as long as the couples meet other program qualifications:

  • retirement; and
  • lump sum death benefit.

As far as disability benefits, a spouse of an individual who was receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits may receive the surviving spouse benefit following the individual’s death. This applies for same-sex as well as opposite-sex couples.

The SSA will consider marriage status of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applicants regardless of whether they are in a same-sex or opposite-sex marriage. If you are receiving SSI, you must inform the SSA that you are married, separated or divorced.

SSI demands that applicants and beneficiaries meet strict low-income financial qualifications. The SSA considers your income and resources to determine eligibility, and now it will also consider your spouse’s income and resources when evaluating eligibility and the benefits to which you’re entitled.

Another program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) also changes across state lines. This is a state program that offers monetary assistance to low-income families.

Here is a quick list outlining if you can or cannot receive TANF benefits, if:

  • your state of residence recognizes your marriage then same-sex couples can receive TANF assistance;
  • you are in a civil union or registered domestic partnership and the state recognizes it then you can receive TANF; and
  • you live in a state that does not recognize your marriage then you will likely not be eligible for TANF assistance.

What if I live in a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage?

As long as the marriage took place in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages, the federal government now recognizes you as married. Marriages are considered ‘portable.’ Civil unions and domestic partnerships are still denied hundreds of rights that married couples enjoy in many states in America.

The SSA is working with the Justice Department to address the issue, but encourages same-sex couples who believe they may be eligible for benefits to apply. It notes that applying now can help prevent losing any potential benefits should you be deemed eligible.

Do we need to hire a lawyer?

The Social Security disability application process – not to mention evaluating your eligibility – can be difficult and confusing. It requires proving eligibility based on your disability as well as your other qualifications for the specific program. SSDI eligibility is based on having enough work credits, while SSI is income-based.

If you are denied benefits to which you believe you are eligible, talk to an attorney. Further, if you’re unsure of your eligibility – such as if you live in a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages – be sure to consult a local attorney. In New York, fortunately, same-sex marriage is recognized and married couples hold the same rights to Social Security benefits as any other married couple.

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