I received an inquiry at my San Francisco office from a potential client who is interested in applying for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) My potential client is poor but his partner makes a lot of money and supports him. (I will call my potential client, “Jim.”) Jim and his partner are registered domestic partners in the State of California.
I was not concerned about the medical evidence when I received this call. What I first wondered was whether Jim was financially eligible. In order to be eligible for SSI, an individual must have a low income and few assets. Specifically, an individual cannot have more than $2,000 in resources. When an individual is married, the resources of his spouse are deemed to be his. A married couple may have up to $3,000 in resources and still be eligible for SSI.
The only good feature about the Defense of Marriage Act, (“DOMA”), is that it actually helps in a case like this in an odd way. DOMA states that the federal government recognizes marriage as between a man and a woman. Since the Social Security Administration is a federal agency, they only recognize this definition of a “married” couple. Homosexual couples are not considered married and thus the deeming provisions do not apply. Jim will be treated as a single individual even though he is in a domestic partnership. Although I want DOMA to be declared unconstitutional, for Jim ‘s purpose the current law is helpful. Because Jim is not married, the Social Security Administration does not deem his partner’s income to him. So although he and his partner are living like a married couple, the fact that their marriage is not recognized makes Jim eligible for SSI.
Even though Jim is eligible to apply, he most likely will not receive very much. If Jim is approved for SSI, the value of food and housing that he receives from his partner, may reduce his overall benefit amount.