New legislation sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, would increase Social Security benefits for widows and widowers.
The Stronger Safety Net Act would create an alternative benefit for surviving spouses in marriages where both spouses paid into Social Security.
The proposed legislation comes just weeks after a report from the Social Security Administration’s Inspector General showing widows and widowers have been shorted about $140 million in benefits.
But the timing of the SSN Act to the IG’s report is coincidental. Sen. Murray and others have sponsored similar legislation in previous sessions of Congress.
The SSN Act creates an alternative benefit for surviving spouses equal to the sum of 75% of the survivor’s retirement benefit and the full retirement age benefit of the deceased spouse.
Under current law, survivor benefit calculations are subject to some complexity. Surviving spouses that have an established benefit are entitled to the survivor benefit when it is larger than their own.
One factor on existing calculations is whether the deceased spouse had begun collecting benefits at full retirement age.
If the deceased spouse was receiving full benefits under full retirement age at death, then the surviving spouse is entitled to all of those benefits if they too delay claiming until full retirement age. If the surviving spouse elects to collect the survivor’s benefit early, it is subject to reductions.
If the deceased spouse was collecting benefits before they reached full retirement age at death, then the surviving spouse is entitled to at least 82.5% of the full retirement age benefit.
Under Sen. Murray’s plan, the new formula could be used if it provides higher benefits than under current calculations.