The Politics of Spousal Benefits
If you are collecting Social Security Disability Insurance, you may be entitled to additional benefits for your family members.
Auxiliary benefits, sometimes called dependents’, or secondary benefits, may be paid to the child, spouse, or parent of an SSDI beneficiary. The application process for auxiliary benefits is similar to the application process for SSDI, except that applicants for auxiliary benefits do not need to be disabled. Instead, they must meet a strict criteria of dependency guidelines. If eligible, the amount of benefits received is based on the disabled family member’s tax contribution to the Social Security program while employed.
The original Social Security Act of 1935 did not provide benefits for spouses.
Originally, any benefit granted would go directly to beneficiary, or, if they died, to their estate. Auxiliary benefits were added a few years later. The view was if the provider of a family was disabled, the family would need more money than a single disabled individual. Benefits were only available to “aged wives” and children of Social Security beneficiaries. Throughout the years, dependent parents and male spouses of beneficiaries have been added to the list of those eligible for secondary benefits.
Gender discrimination has gradually been eliminated.
In the late 70’s, the traditional view of a male-dominated patriarchal family structure began to give way to a more progressive perspective where men and women share both breadwinner and domestic support roles. The landmark Supreme Court decision in Weinberger v, Wiesenfeld, gave benefits to surviving male spouses of female beneficiaries. Other Supreme Court decisions weakened the distinctions between genders until Congress revised the Social Security Act to eliminate discrimination based on gender in 1983.
Today, some people are pushing for further reform on spousal benefits.
Currently, in order to qualify for surviving spouse benefits, you must have been married for ten years. Marriage is becoming less common all together and is more frequently ending in divorce. Increasingly, marriages are failing to meet that qualification. Some claim this prerequisite is unfair because it creates an “all-or-nothing” situation where a nine year, eleven month marriage does not qualify for survivor benefits, but a ten year marriage does. This also creates a situation where a low-earner married to a high-earner for ten years receives benefits, but a member of a high-earning couple who has paid more into the system may be denied. Because black and Hispanic populations have shorter marriages on average, a 1996 study found white women are twice as likely as black women to receive noncontributory spouse benefits.
Social Security Disability Eligibility as a Spouse
The spouse of a retired or disabled worker is entitled to benefits when he or she:
- Is age 62 or over; or
- Has in care a child who is either under age 16, or over age 16 and disabled, who is entitled to benefits on the worker’s Social Security record.
Divorced Spouse of insured worker
The divorced spouse of a retired or disabled worker is entitled to benefits if the spouse is at least 62 and was married to the worker for at least ten years. The divorced spouse of a fully insured worker is eligible if he or she:
- Has not yet filed a claim for benefits, if both claimant and ex-spouse are at least 62;
- Was married for at least ten years; and
- Has been finally divorced for at least two years in a row.
Spouse of Deceased insured worker
- The surviving spouse (including a surviving divorced spouse) of a deceased insured worker is eligible if he or she is age 60 or older;
- The disabled surviving spouse (including a surviving divorced spouse in some cases) of a deceased insured worker is eligible if he or she is age 50-59 and becomes disabled within the period specified;
- The surviving spouse (including a surviving divorced spouse) of a deceased insured worker, regardless of age, is eligible if he or she is caring for an entitled child of the deceased who is either under age 16 or disabled before age 22.
If you have applied for auxiliary benefits and been denied,
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