Justice in Aging Secures Benefits for Married LGBT Couples

June 15, 2016


JIA Logo

Justice in Aging (formerly the National Senior Citizens Law Center) is a national nonprofit organization that uses the power of law to fight senior poverty by securing access to affordable health care and economic security for older adults with limited resources. Since being founded in Los Angeles more than 40 years ago, Justice in Aging has focused efforts primarily on populations that have traditionally lacked legal protection such as women, people of color, LGBT individuals, and people with limited English proficiency. For Justice in Aging, their vision for the future becomes a reality when the systems and programs in place to protect older adults from the harms of poverty are equally accessible to all.

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Pride parade and Equal Rights flag

LGBT older adults are disproportionately impacted by poverty after facing systemic discrimination over the course of their lives in everything from employment, to marriage access and benefits, to isolation and exclusion from family support. For many, June pride month is a time to reflect on and celebrate the progress we’ve made so far towards LGBTQ equality and recommit to the future work that remains. For this year’s pride month, Justice in Aging has something to add to the celebrations. Hundreds of low-income married LGBTQ individuals who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will no longer have to worry about the Social Security Administration (SSA) going after them for thousands of dollars they shouldn’t owe and can’t afford to pay.

SSA attempted to recoup payments that were the result of the agency’s failure to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples for months, and sometimes years, after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) back in 2013. Last year Justice in Aging filed a class action lawsuit that argued that, since the payments resulted from the agency’s own discriminatory policy – and not the actions of the recipients – it was unfair and unjust for the agency to seek to recover them now. Especially since these individuals are already living below the federal poverty level. As special counsel for Justice in Aging Gerald McIntyre noted: “The victims of that discrimination should not be the ones to pay for the agency’s mistake.”

Supportive members of Congress also helped tip the scale in favor of the plaintiffs. In October 2015, a group of lawmakers—including Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Representative Mark Takano (D-CA)—sent SSA a letter asking the agency to waive recovery of overpayments and implement the Supreme Court’s decision.

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Justice in Aging Staff

And justice prevailed! In April, SSA changed its policy and announced that it would presume that all affected individuals had requested a waiver, that they were without fault, and that recoupment would be “against equity and good conscience”—just as Justice in Aging argued in the lawsuit. Low-income seniors in same-sex marriages could save tens of thousands of dollars. In May, SSA agreed to identify and waive any overpayments of putative class members whose waiver requests were previously denied.

Read more about the lawsuit, Held v. Colvin, which was filed by Justice in Aging, along with Foley Hoag LLP, and Legal Advocates & Defenders for the LGBTQ Community (GLAD). If you have an affected client, we would love to hear from you—contact Anna Rich, arich@justiceinaging.org


Organizations mentioned/involved: Justice in Aging
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