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Could same-sex marriage affect my Supplemental Security Income?

The Social Security Administration’s acting commissioner made an announcement recently about how the agency plans to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. As of right now, the SSA has begun processing Social Security retirement benefit claims and adjustments for married, same-sex couples.

If you’re married to someone of the same gender and one or both of you receives Social Security disability benefits, you may wonder if your marital status could affect your benefits. The answer is yes, if the benefits you receive are through the Supplemental Security Income program.

If you are in a legal same-sex marriage and are receiving benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance, your benefits will not be affected. Likewise, if you’re near retirement age, you shouldn’t have to worry because Social Security retirement benefits aren’t impacted either, as long as you both live. However, widow and widower’s benefits are affected by marriage.

SSI recipients may need to take action to protect their benefits, however. You must report legal marriages to the Social Security Administration, and your spouse’s income could have the effect of either raising or lowering your benefits, depending on your circumstances.

Before the Windsor decision, if both you and your spouse were receiving SSI benefits, each of your benefit levels were determined at the individual rate, as if you were single. Now that your marriage is recognized by the federal government, your benefits will probably need to be recalculated at the couples’ rate.

If you believe that you may now qualify for new or additional Social Security benefits of any kind, the Social Security Administration urges you to apply as soon as possible to avoid losing potential benefits. The agency is currently working with the Justice Department to determine the full legal implications for same-sex couples, and it will begin implementing changes soon.


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