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SAME Act Provides Social Security Equity for Same-Sex Couples and their Families

One year ago today, the Supreme Court issued its landmark Windsor ruling in the Defense of Marriage Act providing benefits to legally married same-sex married couples.  Since then, federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration have been working to define benefits eligibility for millions of Americans.

Since the Windsor ruling, LGBT couples in 22 states and the District of Columbia have become fully eligible to receive Social Security benefits.  But that’s not true for the same sex couples who live in the remaining 28 states that do not recognize their marriages.  Unless Congress or the courts intervene, Social Security claims filed by LGBT couples who reside in the “non-recognition” states will -- in effect -- be denied.  That’s why the National Committee is proud to join a coalition of advocates today in announcing our support of the Social Security and Marriage Equality (SAME) Act.  The legislation introduced by Senators Patty Murray(D-WA) and Mark Udall(D-CO) and Representatives Ron Kind(D-WI), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen(R-FL), Allyson Schwartz(D-PA) and Elizabeth Esty(D-CT) extends full Social Security benefits to legally married same-sex couples, regardless of where they live.   

“Unless Congress or the courts intervene, Social Security claims filed by LGBT couples who reside in the “non-recognition” states will -- in effect -- be denied. LGBT families should not be forced to wait any longer. Justice delayed for LGBT families who live in states that do not recognize same sex marriage is justice denied. It is time for Congress to pass legislation that would make all couples and their children fully eligible to receive Social Security benefits regardless of where they live and who they love.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

To help LGBT families navigate the confusion about their Social Security benefit eligibility, in October of 2013 the National Committee Foundation launched the “Know Your Rights” campaign nationwide.  It’s the first outreach program of its kind and a model for a national education campaign potentially reaching millions of LGBT Americans coast to coast.  

Social Security News

There is a lot of news coming from the Social Security Administration today.  First, SSA has published new instructions that allow the agency to process more claims for same-sex couples who qualify for Social Security benefits. 

“This latest policy development lets the agency recognize some non-marital legal relationships as marriages for determining entitlement to benefits. These instructions also allow Social Security to begin processing many claims in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages or non-marital legal relationships.  We have consulted with the Department of Justice and determined that the Social Security Act requires the agency to follow state law in Social Security cases. The new policy also addresses Supplemental Security Income claims based on same-sex relationships. Your same-sex marriage may affect your SSI eligibility or payment amount.

If you are in, or are a surviving spouse of, a same-sex marriage or non-marital legal same-sex relationship, we encourage you to apply right away for benefits.”

The SSA website has more details including this Fact Sheet.

Also, today President Obama announced plans to nominate current Acting SSA Commissioner, Carolyn Colvin, to serve as the Commissioner.  Colvin has served in an “acting” capacity for more than a year so it’s encouraging to see that critical position at SSA finally filled.  In addition to being a former NCPSSM Board of Trustee Member, the nominee has filled numerous roles at the SSA going back to 1994.  She has also served as the Director of the Department of Health and Human Services for both D.C. and Montgomery County. 

More Retirees – Fewer Social Security Offices to Help

The Social Security Administration’s budget has been under assault for years. Today the Senate Special Committee on Aging will examine the real-life impact these cuts are having on millions of seniors, people with disabilities, survivors and their families:

“The hearing, the culmination of a bipartisan committee staff investigation into service reductions at the Social Security Administration (SSA), comes at a time when baby boomers are filing record numbers of retirement, disability and survivor claims with the agency.  Despite the rising demand, the SSA is currently in the midst of the largest five-year decline in field offices in its 79-year history.  Budget cuts have, in part, led the agency to close 64 field offices and 533 temporary mobile offices since 2010.  The SSA has also shed some 11,000 workers over the last three years and continues to reduce or eliminate a variety of in-person services while trying to shift seniors and others online to conduct their business.”

According to the New York Times:

 “The field offices served over 43 million people last year. About 10 percent of the visitors filed for benefits, and 30 percent were seeking new or replacement Social Security cards.

... Nancy A. Berryhill, a deputy commissioner at the agency, said its budget and work force had not kept pace with what she described as “a staggering 27 percent increase” in claims for retirement benefits, to 3.3 million last year, from 2.6 million in 2007.

Social Security encourages consumers to use the Internet to do business with the agency. In 2013, Ms. Berryhill said, ‘we received nearly half of all Social Security retirement and disability applications online, and the percentage of people who choose to file online continues to grow.’”

Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times correctly points out the problem with this shift to online services:

But is that an adequate substitute? No way. For one thing, you have to know that your statement is available via the Internet, you have to know where to find it, and you have to be able to navigate a registration procedure that is not all that user-friendly -- especially for someone not familiar with navigating the Web, and double-especially for someone without easy access to a computer. Despite a claim that we all live in the digital world today, those are not small groups.

Importantly, the Social Security Administration has made no discernible effort to proactively advise Americans that the paper statements are a thing of the past. In other words, what was once its most effective outreach to millions of people has disappeared without a trace, or a single word of warning.

Social Security says that if you have problems accessing the online service, you can get help at a Social Security office. Of course, those offices, which used to be open until 4 p.m., are now open only till 3:30. Starting in mid-November, they'll only be open till 3. And starting Jan. 2, they'll be closing at noon Wednesdays.

"There's already an enormous amount of unhappiness for people who walk to their Social Security office and find a sign saying, 'We closed at 3:30,'" says Webster Phillips, a former Social Security associate commissioner who now works with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.”

In testimony submitted to the Senate Aging Committee, NCPSSM President/CEO Max Richtman says:

“...the National Committee believes any individual who has paid Social Security taxes has the right to face-to-face service within a reasonable distance of their home.

The National Committee also is concerned that seniors and low-income individuals who are accustomed to conducting business on a face-to-face basis will suffer undue hardship when faced with the need for a benefit verification letter or SSN printout.  Many in this population lack access to and are not familiar with computers and printers.  I am also concerned that shifting this administrative burden to SSA call centers will only increase the current average wait time of 26 minutes.” 

While some Members of Congress appear quick to blame the Social Security Administration for these closures, as if they’ve happened in a vacuum, others have been warning years of budget cuts to the SSA -- happening at the same time service needs are increasing --  would ultimately hurt millions of Americans who rely on the Social Security benefits they've worked a lifetime to earn:

Representative Xavier Becerra of California, the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, has repeatedly expressed concerns about the agency’s operating budget, which was $11 billion in 2013, about 4 percent less than in 2010. ‘No one should be surprised that service hours have been reduced, wait times have increased and local offices have closed,’ Mr. Becerra said.”

Why We Need to BOOST Social Security -- New CBS Poll Shows Retirement Still Elusive for Many

We’ve wasted years of political discourse led by a billion dollar Wall Street campaign to convince America we can’t afford a strong Social Security system.  While those like Alan Simpson, Pete Peterson and Paul Ryan, believe middle class families should foot the bill for trillions in tax breaks for huge corporations and the wealthiest among us, step outside Washington and Wall Street and it’s clear the average American disagrees. 

Our nation’s middle class continues to struggle and for older workers, the prospect of retirement remains elusive.  A new CBS poll describes the economic realities facing most Americans.

 “Seven of 10 Americans who haven't retired yet find it hard to save for retirement while also paying the bills and meeting their basic living expenses, a new CBS News poll shows. Not surprisingly, those earning less are having more difficulty setting money aside. More than 80 percent of people making less than $50,000 a year say it is hard to keep up with bills and save for retirement at the same time, and half say it is very hard.

"There is a segment of the population who cannot afford food and rent and to save for retirement, and they rationally choose rent and food over retirement savings," said Anthony Webb, senior research economist with Boston College's Center for Retirement Research.”

According to the 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a sizable percentage of workers report they have virtually no savings and investments. More than a third (36 percent) of retired civilian workers say they have less than $1,000 (up from 28 percent in 2013). A quarter of workers and 17 percent of retirees indicate that their current level of debt is higher than it was five years ago.  The CBS poll received similar responses:

“But the country's troubling shortfall in retirement savings isn't confined to lower-income earners. More than 60 percent of those earning between $50,000 and $100,000 a year say it is hard to save for retirement, according to the telephone poll of more than 1,000 adults around the U.S.”

Social Security remains the only stable source of income for many families who are still rebuilding after our nation’s recent brush with economic collapse.  This is exactly why it’s time to shift the debate to where it should have been all along...boosting benefits. 

Building upon the growing public support for expanding Social Security, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) has launched the Boost Social Security Now education campaign to inform and mobilize our membership, grassroots networks and on-line communities to convince Congress that now is the time to boost benefits, not cut them.  

Please take a moment and join our growing movement.  Call Congress, Write a Letter and Sign our Petition telling Washington Now’s the time to Boost Social Security!

Social Security - Just the Facts

Thanks to YES Magazine for this terrific infographic which lays out the truth about Social Security in such a simple, common sense, way!


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