Social Security has issued Emergency Message (EM) 16013 to give its staff instructions on overpayment issues resulting from legal acceptance of same sex marriage. Some readers are now thinking "Wait, what? I thought legal acceptance of same sex marriage would result in more money being paid." Overall, yes, somewhat more money will be paid. That's almost always the case for Title II benefits, those based upon someone's earnings record. (For sticklers, I said almost always. I know marriage could eliminate entitlement to widows benefits in some cases, for instance.) However, in Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is a needs-based benefit, marriage usually causes reduction or elimination of entitlement to benefits. There are two ways that same sex marriage can hurt SSI recipients. The first and less common way is if both partners to a same sex marriage are on SSI. The rate for a married couple where both are eligible for SSI is less than the total of what the two would receive if they were not married. The second and more common way that same sex marriage can reduce SSI benefits is that if you're married the income and resources of the person you're married to are attributed to you for purposes of computing your SSI benefit. If, for instance, a disabled person is living with and being supported by a healthy person who is working and has a good income, if they're not married, the disabled person will suffer, at worst, a one-third reduction in his or her SSI benefits for "living in the household of another" whereas if they're married, the disabled person will lose his or her SSI benefits altogether.
Now that I've explained the problem, what's Social Security going to do about the SSI overpayments resulting from legal acceptance of same sex marriage? Social Security will assume that the claimant is requesting waiver of the overpayment and will waive the overpayment. The claimant need not even file the form normally required to obtain consideration of waiver of an overpayment. The agency is saying it would be "against equity and good conscience" to try to collect these overpayments.