skip to main content

S. 622: Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act of 2019

More than 70% of both the House and Senate support this legislation, but it’s failed in the past four Congresses. Will this time be different?

Context

Currently, the surviving spouse of a military member who dies on active duty or of a service-connected illness or injury in retirement is entitled to survivor’s benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) fund. However, if they had also voluntarily paid into the Department of Defense’s Survivors Benefits Plan (SBP) in addition to the DIC, their survivors’ benefits can be subtracted by as much as $15,828 per year.

Essentially, the SBP is being subtracted from the total survivor’s benefit, rather than added to it. That means more than 65,000 military surviving spouses receive less money than they’re supposed to — in some cases much less money. It’s been nicknamed the “widow’s tax.”

What the legislation does

The Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act (in the House) and the Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act (in the Senate) would eliminate this provision, giving military spouses their full money due.

The House version was introduced on January 15 as bill number H.R. 553 , by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC2). The Senate version on February 28 as bill number S. 622, by Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that government bureaucracy shouldn’t deprive grieving military spouses of much-needed financial support.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that our federal government refuses to pay the widows and widowers of our nation’s heroes the full benefits they are entitled to, especially those benefit plans for which they have voluntarily paid into,” Sen. Jones said in a press release.

“No surviving spouse should be faced with this unexpected and completely unfair cut to the benefits they count on in these tragic circumstances,” Sen. Jones continued. “This is a tax on military families who have already sacrificed so much. We are going to work to right this wrong.”

“Members of our military risk their lives for our freedoms every day. It is unconscionable to think there is a ‘Widow’s Tax’ on the surviving family members of our courageous men and women,” Rep. Wilson said in a press release. “We owe it to them to secure stable benefits in the event of their retirement or death.”

“For too long, the Survivors Benefit Plan (SBP) reduction by the amount of paid Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) has been an unfair penalty that cuts earned benefits to military survivors,” Rep. Wilson continued. “This issue creates a substantial burden for the surviving families, and we must act now.”

What opponents say

GovTrack Insider was unable to locate any explicit statements of opposition, although the cost could have some wary. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the House legislation would cost $5.7 billion over the next decade.

Odds of passage

It has attracted 75 bipartisan Senate cosponsors: 43 Democrats or Democratic-affiliated independents plus 32 Republicans. That’s the second-most Senate cosponsors of any bill so far this Congress, behind only the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemorative Coin Act with 82 cosponsors. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

It has also attracted 372 bipartisan House cosponsors: 208 Democrats and 164 Republicans. That gives it the most House cosponsors of any bill so far this Congress. It awaits a potential vote in the House Armed Services Committee.

So it is a sure bet? Not so fast. The legislation has been introduced in the past four Congress sessions, to no avail. The 2017 version had 271 cosponsors, the 2015 version had 208 cosponsors, the 2013 version had 237 cosponsors, and the 2011 version had 207 cosponsors. None even received a House vote, let alone passage.

Last updated Jul 29, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

No summary available.