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Social Security: An Imperative Issue for Same-Sex Couples

Social Security: An Imperative Issue for Same-Sex Couples


A town hall meeting will educate same-sex couples on all their new rights.

Since the creation of television back in the 1950s up until the present day, game shows have been popular viewing experiences. Let's Make A Deal, Queen for a Day, The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy! and many others have excited both participants and viewers by the thrill of getting something for nothing.

It is almost unheard of for the Federal Government to provide something for nothing. But in a sense, that is almost what happened when marriage equality was made the law of the land due to two recent Supreme Court decisions (Windsor in 2013 and Obergefell in 2015). These rulings ushered in seismic change for same-sex married couples by conveying equality of benefits in federal programs - none more essential and potentially financially rewarding than Social Security. Because of the June 2016 Obergefell Supreme Court decision, same-sex couples throughout the country enjoy a level playing field with opposite-sex couples and can access similar earned benefits.

When marriage equality became a reality in 2013 for many in the LBGT community, most had little understanding of the kinds of benefits offered to the children and spouses of workers who are insured for benefits. LGBT folks wary of government for myriad reasons and elders who have been forced to spend far too many years in the closet were simply unfamiliar with the new benefits that the Windsor decision opened to them, and were reluctant to step up and claim the benefits that were rightfully theirs.

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation (NCF) recognized this extraordinary knowledge gap and this year formed a unique collaboration with The California Wellness Foundation and the Social Security Administration to fill the public information gap. In Town Halls across California, LGBT couples, individuals and their communities are being educated about the potential for enhanced Social Security benefits - spousal, survivor, dependent minor and other categories as well as the impact on their Medicare benefits.

In general, the situations of same-sex couples are no different than opposite sex couples - they may be married partners whose earning histories are significantly different, have a disability that prevents them from working, started their family late in life and have a minor child living at home, or be a widow or widower. So what is the difference? For LGBT folks, Social Security spousal benefits are new benefits that they likely know very little about. The huge knowledge gap that leads to accessing these benefits must be bridged, which is what the Town Hall meetings are all about.

In addition to providing vital retirement security, Social Security is an economic stimulus to the state of California to the tune of $77 billion a year and it is the nation's number one anti-poverty program. Depending upon the earning history of a same-sex married couple, if they meet basic age and work history requirements, the lower wage earner may be eligible for a considerable "raise" in their monthly benefit - some could see an increase of $600 to $700 a month!

This potential economic boost is particularly important to the LGBT community, which has been shown to have higher poverty rates and whose health and longevity generally trail opposite-sex marriages. But individuals must apply to Social Security in order to benefit. Each day that people delay in filing claims translates to resources they are not accessing - critical funds that could be used for rent, prescriptions, food and other critical life needs.

The last two Know Your Rights Initiative/California Town Halls will be held in San Diego on Wednesday, Sept. 30. Besides a moderated panel of experts, the Town Halls will feature the highest ranking Social Security official in the country, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Carolyn W. Colvin, who has been very supportive of the Know Your Rights Initiative. Top executives of the Social Security Administration are participating in these important outreach events as well as elected officials, LGBT community leaders, and local and national experts. We urge you to take advantage of the opportunities to learn about what the benefits are and how you can access them.

If you can't be front and center in San Diego to learn about how you may be eligible to access significantly more resources each month, you are in luck! Please register for the live streaming event coverage at 6 p.m. PST on Wednesday, Sept. 30. The live stream will be available and free to all on Oct. 1 for several months. To register please visit: WWW.NETTV.BZ/REGISTER

It costs nothing to learn how you may be financially impacted by the legalization of same-sex marriage. And in fact, you could end up a big winner!

ELLEN MORGENSTERNELLEN MORGENSTERN is project director for Know Your Rights Initiative/California.

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Ellen Morgenstern