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.
Requirements for eligibility for spousal benefits are complicated and riddled with exceptions upon exceptions.
However, in general, if your spouse is older than 62 or caring for your child who is under 16 they may be eligible for benefits. A divorced spouse would have to been married to you for 10 years, be at least 62, be unmarried, and not eligible for an equal or higher benefit on their own.
If you have applied for auxiliary benefits and been denied,
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