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Sanchez To Introduce Social Security Bill

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Rep. Linda Sanchez of California is expected to announce Sunday that she will be introducing legislation to equalize social security benefits for same-sex couples.

"I believe that this is a civil rights issue," she told The Advocate, "and I'm committed to trying to extend equality and equal opportunity and I think this bill is one excellent way to do it."

Sanchez will deliver the news Sunday at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center Rock for Equality rally. She says the center approached her about the issue along with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and AIDS Community Action Foundation.

Sanchez said she was especially sympathetic to the plight of same-sex couples given the country's bleak economic downturn.

"For heterosexual couples there are survivor benefits if something should happen to a spouse and death benefits. In a time like this, that can make a big difference for someone living on a fixed income," she said. "Contrast that with same-sex married couples who do the same thing that heterosexual couples do, which is pay into the social security system, and if something should happen to one of the two, the other is completely ineligible for social security benefits."

Same-sex couples are denied four types of social security benefits: Spousal Retirement Benefits when one spouse retires; Spousal/Dependents Disability Benefit under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) when one spouse is disabled; Survivors Benefits, which allow a widow or widower to be eligible to claim their own Social Security benefit or an amount equal to the benefit to which their deceased spouse was eligible; and Death Benefit, which provides a modest benefit for burial expenses. The Williams Institute estimates that the inequity costs LGBT people $124 million every year.

Sanchez said some initial research showed that gay male couples receive 18% less in social security benefits and lesbian couples receive 31% less than their heterosexual counterparts.

"Women still earn less than men and women tend to live longer than," she explained, "so women receive a lower level because they're paid less and then that's got to last more years because they live longer, so that's why there's a differential between male couples and lesbian couples."

Sanchez expected the bill would be drafted and introduced within about a month.

"We have to do some groundwork before we introduce the bill to get the language correct," she said, noting that different states have different laws regarding same-sex unions -- some have legal marriage while others provide domestic partnerships or civil union. Sanchez intends to craft the legislation "as broad as possible, as expansive as possible" in order to maximize its effect for same-sex couples.

Once the bill is introduced, "that's when the real work begins," Sanchez said. The Congresswoman will start soliciting cosponsors in the House's LGBT caucus then branch out to the broader Democratic caucus. She also plans to push for a hearing in the Ways & Means Social Security subcommittee, of which she is a member.

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