At the age of 73, Alice lost Sylvia, who had been her beloved partner for more than four decades. Months turned into years as Sylvia lay in the hospital with Alice at her side. In the beginning, dubious hospital staff questioned Alice’s connection to Sylvia, and wondered whether she should be allowed to visit at all. But as time wore on, the women’s obvious devotion and commitment to one another transformed the resistant hearts and minds of Sylvia’s caregivers, and Alice was welcomed and supported by the doctors, nurses and staff as Sylvia’s family.
When Sylvia was in the end stages of her illness, it became legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry in California. So that’s what Sylvia and Alice did. They got married. In the hospital. With Alice at Sylvia’s bedside, just as she had been for nearly two years. In the end, members of the once-skeptical hospital staff jammed Sylvia’s room to witness the women’s vows and to celebrate their union.
Sylvia’s death devastated Alice. But her illness wiped her out financially because of the unique relationship that MediCal and Social Security share. Here’s how it works:
If you’re single, MediCal takes nearly 100% of your Social Security benefit if you suffer long-term hospitalization because no one is likely to be depending on your benefits.
If you’re married, MediCal takes only 50% of your Social Security benefit if you suffer long-term hospitalization because someone might be depending on your benefits.
Alice spent a lifetime being a school teacher and social worker. She gave a lot to her community and her work was rewarding but not lucrative. As a result, her Social Security retirement benefit is modest. Sylvia bootstrapped herself from hat-check girl to accountant to the CFO of a major corporation. Her Social Security benefit was the maximum - almost $2,400 per month.
Although Alice and Sylvia were together for 42 years and were legally married in a state that recognized their union, Alice was no one in the eyes of the federal government. Had she been someone, she would have been given benefits to help bury Sylvia, and she would have been able to claim Sylvia’s Social Security benefits. Unfortunately, the federal government doesn’t recognize Alice as someone in relationship to Sylvia. So when Sylvia died, Alice was denied benefits and could no longer afford the apartment they had shared.
Even now, Alice wonders what happened to all the money Sylvia paid into Social Security. “Maybe it went to fight a war somewhere or to bail out a bank. I don’t know. But it certainly didn’t come to me. And that isn’t fair. And that isn’t fair for anybody else this happens to,” she observes.
Alice was lucky. She found low-income housing that would take her and her only remaining family: the two cats that Sylvia rescued. Alice says “I’d sleep in my car with these cats rather than in an apartment without them - they were Sylvia’s. She loved them and I love her.”
Alice doesn’t want a hand-out, or special treatment. Alice wants the benefit of a safety net that other Americans take for granted. Alice wants YOU to join her and Rock for Equality so together we can end Social Security discrimination.
Click here to sponsor Alice.