In order to educate the LGBT community about its new rights under Social Security since the June 2013 Windsor Supreme Court decision, Ellen Morgensterndirector of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation ( NCPSSM Foundation )thought of an education campaign called the "Know Your Rights Initiative/California: Social Security and the LGBT Community."
Morgenstern noted that the foundation partnered with the Social Security Administration ( SSA ) and The California Wellness Foundation for this campaign with funding provided by The California Wellness Foundation. She said that this collaboration is the only one of its kind in the country.
The NCPSSM Foundation is, according to its website, "a [501( c )( 3 )] organization whose mission is to protect, promote, and ensure the financial security, health, and well being of current and future generations of Americans through research, analysis and public education."
Morgenstern recently spoke on a panel during the American Association on Aging annual conference here in Chicago about Social Security and the LGBT community. Her focus was on same-sex married couples and families. She noted that there were about 40 people in the room and they came from all over the country.
"I told the attendees that while there are organizations that are working on the marriage equality issue we've been working on educating people of their Social Security rights. The problem is nobody knows about these benefits because it's under the radar," said Morgenstern. "I informed them that Social Security is the largest federal benefit that is now available to same-sex married couples in states where their marriages are recognized and they should be taking advantage of this benefit."
"There are so many permutations on what couples can receive as far as benefits are concerned. Same-sex couples may be able to access more monthly income but it will only happen if they go down to the SSA and talk to them. It's important to apply as soon as possible if you think you are eligible. It's like putting a stake in the ground because if something positive happens during the adjudication process applicants will get paid back to the original filing date," said Morgenstern. "SSA agents have been given a mandate by Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin to treat every single person with respect and courtesy. They go down a checklist and ask everyone a lot of questions because their goal is to give people the maximum amount that they are entitled to."
Morgenstern, who is a straight ally, sees this as a social justice issue. She is hoping to expand this campaign to New York, Washington, Oregon and Illinois in the coming years.
"Everybody should be treated the same way and be on a level playing field," said Morgenstern. "This is a wrong that has now been righted and it's up to individuals to make sure they get the money that's theirs."
A webinar will take place Thursday, April 9, at 9 p.m. CT. To register visit www.nettv.bz/register. For those who are unable to participate, the webinar will be archived for 60 days following the event. They will also be hosting a number of town halls across California this year.
See www.ncpssmfoundation.org for more information.