The Social Security Administration is now processing claims for benefits for those in same-sex marriages, the latest in a chain of federal agency responses to the Defense of Marriage Act court decision.
SSA “is now processing some retirement spouse claims for same-sex couples and paying benefits where they are due,” Acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin said in an announcement Friday. “In the coming weeks and months, we will develop and implement additional policy and processing instructions. We appreciate the public’s patience as we work through the legal issues to ensure that our policy is legally sound and clear.”
“I encourage individuals who believe they may be eligible for Social Security benefits to apply now, to protect against the loss of any potential benefits. We will process claims as soon as additional instructions become finalized,” she added.
The SSA announcement is the latest policy change flowing from the June 26 decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the DOMA law’s definition of marriage for federal benefits purposes as only between a man and a woman.
Earlier, the Office of Personnel Management announced that retired federal employees in same-sex marriages who could not provide survivor benefits on their civil service annuities due to DOMA have two years from the date of the high court’s decision to do so. Newly retiring employees may now make those elections through the regular retirement process.
In the federal retirement program, providing for a survivor benefit comes at the cost of a reduced annuity for the retiree. But in addition to financial protection for the survivor, that benefit also continues eligibility in the federal employee health insurance program with its government contribution toward premiums.
The spouses and children of both active and retired employees in same-sex marriages are now covered under several benefits programs in addition to health insurance. While coverage is automatic, employees and retirees have until Aug. 26 to make certain enrollment changes such as switching from individual to family coverage for health insurance. After that, they will have to wait until the annual benefits open season starting in November.
Nearly nine-tenths of federal employees fall under the Federal Employees Retirement System, which includes Social Security benefits. Nearly four-fifths of those already retired worked under the Civil Service Retirement System, which does not include Social Security.