A group of 121 members of Congress — led by gay Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) in the House and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in the Senate — are calling on the Social Security Administration to lift penalties on gay couples who were overpaid benefits following the historic rulings from the Supreme Court on marriage.
In a letter dated Oct. 26, the lawmaker — all Democrats — call on Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to take action to administer benefits “fairly to all individuals.”
“We are concerned to hear that, for some time after the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision, SSA continued to issue benefits to Supplemental Security Income recipients in same-sex marriages as though these individuals were single, and that for some SSI recipients, SSA is still doing so,” the letter says. “Because benefits for unmarried individuals are higher than those for married individuals, SSA’s failure to update its policies resulted in overpayments.”
According to the letter, the Social Security Administration sent out overpayment notices to recollect the money even though “they were overpaid due to SSA’s delayed implementation of the law.”
The letter calls on the Obama administration to “issue a blanket waiver for recovery of overpayment” so that couples who inadvertently continued to receive higher benefits after the Supreme Court’s decisions against the Defense of Marriage Act would be able to keep that money automatically.
The lawmakers ask the Social Security Administration to respond by Nov. 18 with information on how the agency is identifying affected recipients and efforts to update its systems so benefits are administered fairly.
As the letter notes, litigation filed by Justice in Aging and the New England-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders known as Held v. Colvin seeks to compel the administration to drop the penalty on these overpayments. A district court dismissed the lawsuit on the basis that administrative remedies aren’t yet exhausted, but the litigation is on appeal before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
No Republicans signed the letter. Warren’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether any of the organizers engaged in any Republican outreach.
William “B.J.” Jarrett, a Social Security spokesperson, said the agency cannot comment on the letter as a result of pending litigation.
“Social Security is committed to treating all Americans fairly, with dignity and respect,” Jarrett said. “We cannot comment as this issue is the subject of active litigation. Acting Commissioner Colvin will respond to the letter from the members of Congress at the appropriate time.”
The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the letter.
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