Stepping into the role of President of the United States is challenging under any circumstances. However, when Joe Biden was sworn in a year ago, he also had to begin the colossal task of cleaning up the debris left by a twice-impeached, channel-surfing wrecking ball. A recent development with the Social Security Administration (SSA) shows us that President Biden is leaving no stone unturned in righting wrongs, no matter the size of the group of people affected.
Spousal survivor’s benefits under Social Security have been limited to married couples. When a beneficiary dies, the surviving spouse generally becomes entitled to a death benefit as well as the monthly benefits from the deceased. Once the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was declared unconstitutional in 2013, same-sex married couples were finally able to begin receiving survivor’s benefits.
However, there was still a snag. Under existing law, all couples needed to have been legally married for at least nine months before a spouse’s death. This was an anti-fraud provision aimed at preventing people from marrying others whom they knew were dying just to get benefits, but it also created a situation in which many same-sex married couples were ineligible.
The Trump administration tried to keep it that way by appealing two federal court decisions that would have enabled the government to resolve this issue. Fortunately, however, the Biden administration withdrew those appeals late last year. The result is that the SSA is now finally allowing same-sex couples to receive survivor’s benefits if they can show they were in a committed relationship and would have been married if it were legal, according to a report this week from The New York Times.
A bold action Biden took last summer helped paved the way for this important development. In July, Biden fired Andrew Saul as SSA Commissioner after he refused to resign. Appointed by Trump in 2019, Saul spent his tenure making life difficult for people with disabilities, low-income seniors, immigrants, and minorities. After the Justice Department issued an opinion confirming that recent Supreme Court decisions make clear that presidential removal of SSA Commissioners is constitutional, Biden wasted no time terminating Saul a day later.
This development also follows Biden’s Inauguration Day executive order requiring the federal government, including the SSA, to ensure that “[a]ll persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.” In so many ways, the Biden administration has been advancing equality while fulfilling promises, helping move the nation in the right direction: forward.