Big Win For Married LGBT SSI Recipients

The last few weeks have brought some good news regarding Held v. Colvin, a case we (along with Foley Hoag LLP and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, or GLAD) filed in March 2015 against the Social Security Administration (SSA) on behalf of Plaintiffs Hugh Held and Kelley Richardson-Wright and a proposed nationwide class.

We filed this case to stop SSA from attempting to collect “overpayments” from very low income people over 65 and people with disabilities receiving SSI who had been married to someone of the same sex on or before June 2013 when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

As a result, in part, of our lawsuit, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has issued instructions to its local offices across the country that, in effect, mean that people who have been issued overpayments through no fault of their own will not have to appeal their cases individually to the agency, and the agency will stop assessing overpayments against additional individuals in the same situation.

These overpayments were caused by SSA’s continued application of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), for many months, and even years, after that statute was struck down. SSA calculated eligibility and benefit amounts for these individuals as if they were single, even though they were married, which resulted in overpayments. When SSA finally recognized these marriages, the agency asked recipients to pay back thousands of dollars they did not have.

Specifically, the new policy provides instructions to the field offices to presume that a waiver of the overpayment has been requested. The new policy provides further instructions, which should result in a grant of a waiver on the ground that the individual is without fault for the overpayment and that collection would be against equity and good conscience, as was argued in the lawsuit.

We had help in our efforts to stop this practice from some members of Congress. In October 2015, a group of lawmakers sent SSA a letter asking the agency to waive recovery of overpayments and implement the Supreme Court’s decision. Read this for more information on SSA’s misguided attempts to collect from affected individuals and efforts to stop the practice.

Vanessa Barrington

About Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa leads communications efforts for Justice in Aging from the Oakland, CA office. She’s focused on increasing the visibility of Justice in Aging as a national leader in the fight against senior poverty, and amplifying the work of Justice in Aging’s lawyers to defend and broaden access to health care and economic security programs for America’s poor seniors. She oversees all online communications, public relations, social media, fundraising communications, publications, and webinars.