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  • Nic F. Anderson

LGBTQ+ Seniors Now Eligible For Survivor Benefits

LGBTQ+ seniors are now eligible for survivor benefits if they were in a long-term relationship for same-sex marriage was legalized.

Two class action lawsuits were filed 2018: Ely v. Saul and Thornton v. Saul — two similar cases in which both argued that LGBTQ+ people should not be denied survivor benefits because of previous discriminatory legislation.

Judges ruled in favor for both cases; however, the Trump administration filed appeals for the decisions which delayed the benefits from being administered.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) withdrew those appeals, which enabled the plaintiffs and class members to begin receiving the monthly survivor benefits, along with retroactive payments.

“I wanted Social Security to see that here was a lesbian couple that was together for 27 years, and here are the consequences of not having equal rights under the law,” Helen Thornton, the named plaintiff in Thornton v. Saul, told The New York Times.

Factors that determine whether or not a couple would have been married include “joint bank accounts, leases, mortgages, insurance policies or wills,” according to the New York Times report. These factors can also include love letters, sharing a home and photos together.

These benefits could help the LGBTQ+ seniors who are disproportionately living in or near poverty. The Movement Advancement Project and Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) reported that nearly one-third of LGBTQ+ individuals aged 65 and older, live at or below 200% of the poverty level. Forty-eight percent of transgender seniors live in impoverished situations.

SSA has allegedly reached out to 700 people who had applied and were denied benefits before the ruling, but as of Oct. 2021, less than 100 claims were processed.

Lambda Legal has a page dedicated for people who may be eligible for benefits. Click here.