In the last two years, America has experienced significant changes for same-sex couples. In 2013 in U.S. v. Windsor, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which required marriage to be between a man and a woman, was effectively found to be unconstitutional. In 2014, Washington State decided to unilaterally convert all domestic partnerships into marriages, with few exceptions. Washington State, like many other States, is addressing newly married and newly recognized same-sex couples. One of the benefits of marriage is access to federal benefits including Social Security.
Disability Benefits for LGBT Couples
The change in law opens up a variety of benefits to same-sex couples. The first benefit program is the Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) program. A same-sex spouse can now qualify for auxiliary benefits if they are at least 62-years-old or if they are any age and care for a disabled child. They can also receive Survivor’s Disability Benefits if their spouse dies. To qualify for this benefit the surviving same-sex spouse must be over 50-years-old, and their spouse must have died within the last seven years.
These changes provide for benefits for many same-sex couples, but they also close some doors. For example, married couples that receive Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) are subject to the couple’s maximum now that the federal government recognizes their marriages. Maximum Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment amounts increase with the cost-of-living increases that apply to Social Security benefits. The latest such increase, 1.7 percent, becomes effective January 2015.
SSI amounts for 2015
The monthly maximum Federal amounts for 2015 are $733 for an eligible individual, $1,100 for an eligible individual with an eligible spouse, and $367 for an essential person. http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/COLA/SSI.html
Retirement Benefits for LGBT Couples
Same-sex couples can also expect to see significant improvement in their retirement benefits. A retired surviving same-sex spouse can now receive 100% of their deceased spouse’s retirement benefits. A retired same-sex spouse whose spouse is alive is now also eligible for up to 50% of their spouse’s benefit rate.
Lump Sum Death Benefits for LGBT Couples
Same-sex couples are now also eligible to receive the $250 dollar lump sum death benefit.
The enormous changes in eligibility for same-sex couples have caused Social Security to dedicate an entire website to assisting newly eligible same-sex couples. For more information, see http://ssa.gov/doma/.