SSR 76-41: SECTION 1614(b) (42 U.S.C. 1382c(b)) -- SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME -- DEFINITION OF ELIGIBLE SPOUSE
20 CFR 416.1040 and 416.1321(a)
- The claimant for supplemental security income payments and her spouse separated in September 1974; both continued to live alone. The couple obtained a divorce in March 1975. Payments to the spouse were suspended by the Social Security Administration in December 1974 after his checks were returned by the postal service as undeliverable. The claimant contends she should have received a payment as an eligible individual at the time the spouse's payments ceased. Held, through March 1975, the claimant and her spouse continue to meet the definition of an eligible couple as set forth in section 416.1040 of Regulations No. 16.
The claimant and her husband were married on January 24, 1971. Prior to September 30, 1974, both were eligible for supplemental security income benefits and were receiving said benefits as an eligible couple. A determination was made that, effective October 1974, the benefits would be reduced in consideration of income which her husband was receiving as an employee.
The claimant objected to such reduction stating that she and her husband separated on September 30, 1974. Her husband left her after they received the notices that their checks would be reduced. The claimant's husband allegedly stated he would not support her.
Regulations No. 16, section 416.1040 provides, in general, that where an eligible individual and an eligible spouse are receiving payments under title XVI of the Social Security Act, the eligible spouse will not longer qualify as a spouse, effective with the month following the month in which the marriage is terminated or deemed terminated. The eligible spouse, if otherwise qualified, may receive benefits as an eligible individual beginning with the month following such month of termination. A marriage may be terminated by death, divorce, or annulment. Where a court of competent jurisdiction issues a decree of divorce, both parties shall be deemed not married to each other beginning with the month following the month in which the decree becomes final. Section 416.1040(c) provides, in effect, that in the case of separation of parties, where neither party begins living with another individual, that such eligible individual and eligible spouse shall not be considered husband and wife effective with the month in which they have been separated for six months. The six month period of separation shall be counted form the date of separation. Where, however, one of the parties begins living with another individual, the eligible individual and eligible spouse shall not be considered husband and wife effective with the month in which the eligible individual or the eligible spouse commenced living in the same household with such other person.
The claimant had not been living with her husband or any other individual since September 30, 1974, and for a period of at least six months, and stated that to the best of her knowledge, her husband had not been living with another individual for a similar period of time.
The marriage was terminated by divorce effective March 25, 1975. Therefore, the parties would have been deemed not to be married to each other beginning with the month following the month in which the decree became final, in this case, April 1975.
In addition, on March 30, 1975, the claimant and her spouse were separated for a period of six months, neither party having begun living with another individual in the interim. Thus, the claimant and her spouse should not have been considered to be husband and wife for the purposes of title XVI of the Social Security Act effective March 30, 1975, and the claimant, being presumably otherwise qualified, should have received payments as an eligible individual effective the following month, April 1975.
It is, however, the contention of the claimant and there is an abundance of evidence, both in the form of testimony and documentary evidence to the effect that the claimant did not receive support from her former husband prior to September 30, 1974, nor after that date. There is, however, no provision under title XVI of the Social Security Act for consideration of whether support is being given between members of an eligible couple, that is, an eligible individual and an eligible spouse, or how benefits which are received are divided and apportioned between them, or how such benefits are to be used. The law provides that an eligible individual with an eligible spouse receives benefits at a different rate than that of an eligible individual alone. Whether a member of an eligible couple is or is not receiving support from her spouse is, therefore, not determinative of the issues to be decided in this case.
The claimant further contended that her former husband's benefits were terminated effective December 1, 1974, and that following the separation on September 30, 1974, the husband maintained a separate residence where he received his SSI checks. She further stated that payments continued until December 1, 1974, then his benefits were terminated as his October check was returned to Social Security because he no longer resided at the address he had previously given and no additional or forwarding address was provided.
The claimant contends her husband did not receive payments after September 1, 1974, and for all practical purposes was terminated on or about October 1, 1974. Since the theory of a reduced check to the claimant is based on payments to her spouse, no reduction was in order after October 1, 1974, as her spouse at that time was receiving no payments.
Subpart M of Social Security Regulations No. 16 provides for suspensions and terminations of supplemental security income benefits. Section 416.132(a) of said Subpart M provides as follows:
- "When suspension is proper. Suspension of benefit payments is required when a recipient is alive but no longer meets the requirements of eligibility under title XVI of the Act (see Subpart B of this part) and termination in accordance with section 416.1331- 416.1335 does not apply. (This subpart does not cover suspension of payments for administrative reasons, as, for example, when mail is returned as undeliverable by the postal service and the Administration does not have a valid mailing address for a recipient or when the representative payee dies and a search is underway for a substitute representative payee.)"
The husband's benefits were not suspended or terminated within the meaning of the above cited section of Regulations No. 16, but the payments were suspended for administrative reasons, as when mail is returned as undeliverable by the postal service and the Social Security Administration does not have a valid mailing address for a recipient. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it appears the husband continued to be eligible for benefits and was a member of an "eligible couple" from the time of separation through the month of March. The claimant, therefore, was also a member of an eligible couple (or more accurately) an eligible individual with an eligible spouse.
Therefore, it is held that the claimant's supplemental security income benefits should have been reduced effective October 1974 because of her eligible spouse's income, but that claimant being otherwise qualified, should receive payments as an eligible individual effective April 1975.