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Can same-sex spouses receive SSI?

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that same-sex couples possess the constitutional right to marry in the United States. This enlarged the pool of recipients for numerous social programs.

Subsequently the Social Security Administration announced that more same-sex couples will be considered married and eligible for Supplemental Security Income payments and other Social Security benefits. Cash assistance is provided under SSI to recipients with limited income and resources who are at least 65 years old, blind or disabled. Children with disabilities are also eligible for SSI benefits.

SSA issued guidance to its employees on March 21 on the criteria for recognizing these marriages and whether the couples held themselves out as being married. It will also recognize same-sex marriages where the ceremony was performed in a foreign country.

The SSA has processed retirement, surviving spouse and lump-sum death payment claims for same-sex couples in legal non-marital relationships. It is paying these SSI-related benefits when they become due.

The SSA considers same-sex marriages to determine eligibility for SSI and the amount of payments. Couples can appeal the denial of these benefits. A recipient may also appeal the SSA's determination that it overpaid a recipient after recognizing the same-sex marriage.

Recipients must inform the SSA if they are in a same-sex marriage, civil union or other non-marital legal relationship. Likewise, recipients must notify the SSA if they divorce or separate or if the marriage is annulled.

The filing date of the application will determine when benefits commence, if the application is granted. An applicant who is denied benefits may appeal the denial. Fines and penalties will not be imposed unsuccessfully applying for SSI benefits, an appeal is denied or if an applicant refiles a claim.

Same-sex couples may need legal assistance to determine their eligibility for SSI and to contest any denials or overpayment determinations. A lawyer can also advise couples on the impact of their marital status on their Social Security benefits.

Source: Social Security Administration, "Frequently asked questions/same-sex couples," Accessed March 21, 2016

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