Same sex married couples on SSI have something to celebrate for Pride

By June 12, 2015BLOG

We have some hopeful news regarding Justice in Aging’s lawsuit against the Social Security Administration (SSA) for SSA’s demand that lawfully married same sex couples receiving SSI pay back overpayments caused by SSA’s refusal to recognize their marriage in timely fashion. After the lawsuit was filed, SSA issued an emergency order to stop agency workers from issuing any new overpayment notices to SSI recipients married to a person of the same sex.

In March, Justice in Aging, along with GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders), and Foley Hoag LLP filed the class action lawsuit, Held v. Colvin to stop the SSA from collecting overpayments from elderly and disabled recipients of SSI who were married to someone of the same sex and receiving SSI in June 2013 or before. The suit charges that SSA discriminated against these individuals for months, and in some cases more than a year, after that discrimination was held unlawful by the Supreme Court when it struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June 2013. SSA failed to recognize the marriages of same sex couples on SSI even after they’d informed the agency of their status. Because benefits for two unmarried individuals are higher than for a married couple, almost all were overpaid. And the agency was demanding the recipients pay back the overpayments caused by the agency’s tardy and negligent response, resulting in bills of sometimes thousands of dollars that they could ill afford.

Lead Plaintiff Hugh Held lives with his husband Orion Masters in Los Angeles. They’ve been married since 2008 when California legalized same-sex marriage. Mr. Held received a bill for over $6,000 for the amount he was allegedly overpaid. That money has long since been spent on rent, food, and other necessities. “We barely get by on what we get now,” said Mr. Held. “I can’t imagine them taking more away. It would cut into what little money we have left for food.”

Let Us Know About Affected LGBT SSI Recipients

Because of the emergency order, SSA field office personnel are not to place any more SSI recipients in overpayment status as a result of a change in recognition of the recipient’s same-sex marital status. The order is only in effect from May 6, 2015-October 30, 2015, so we’ll be keeping you updated on the status of the case. If you know anyone in this situation who was receiving SSI in June, 2013 and was married to a person of the same sex at the time, they are likely class members even if they have not yet received an overpayment notice. Please contact Justice in Aging Litigation Director, Anna Rich at arich@justiceinaging.org.

About Kevin Prindiville

Kevin Prindiville is Justice in Aging’s Executive Director. He is a nationally recognized expert on Medicare and Medicaid policy and has served as counsel in several class action lawsuits protecting low-income senior’s access to public benefits.