Washington, D.C. - Following an effort led by Congressman Tom Emmer (MN-06) and Congressman Tim Walberg (MI-07), the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced a revision in their policies to allow homeschooled children over the age limit for compulsory school attendance (age 17 in MN and 18 in MI) receive survivors benefits up until age 19 or graduation. These individuals and their families were previously excluded from receiving benefits due to their educational choice. Social Security survivor benefits provide income for the families of deceased workers who have qualified to collect Social Security after retirement.
Representatives Emmer and Walberg engaged SSA after the Home School Legal Defense Association brought to their attention that in Minnesota and Michigan respectively, there are instances of homeschooled children over the ages of 17 and 18 who are denied survivor’s benefits from the SSA because they are not enrolled in a public or private school.
"Homeschooling is an excellent way to receive a quality education, and families who decide to make the necessary sacrifices for this choice should not be penalized by their government,” said Congressman Tom Emmer. “After working with my colleague Congressman Walberg and contacting the Social Security Administration, I am glad to see them rectify this injustice and restore the benefits these families deserve."
"Our family was blessed to be able to homeschool for a season, and students and parents who pursue this educational opportunity should be treated fairly under the law,” said Congressman Walberg. “After contacting the Social Security Administration, I am pleased to see this newly released opinion that will help ensure homeschoolers in Michigan who qualify for student benefits will receive what they are due."
In support of the effort, the Home School Legal Defense Association said, “The Home School Legal Defense Association is extremely grateful for Congressman Emmer, Congressman Walberg, and their staff for their work to ensure that all students, including homeschool students, have equal access to Social Security benefits. For the last three years we’ve represented many families who were excluded based on their decision to homeschool, even though they complied with all applicable laws. We are very hopeful that these decisions will pave the way for them to receive the assistance they desperately need."
Due to the size and scope of the Social Security Administration, regional offices are tasked with issuing guidance to local offices in accordance with state laws. Social Security created district-specific policy manuals, known as "POMS.” POMS are not maintained and can become
outdated as new state laws are passed. In an attempt at modernization, local general counsel can add rules to their district’s POMS.
In Minnesota, a new rule resulted in conflicts with federal law regarding homeschool student eligibility. There are no regulatory requirements for homeschool students over the age of 17—beyond the upper age limit of compulsory school attendance in their state. Because of these circumstances, the local general counsel issued a rule in that district’s POMS claiming that “homeschools in Minnesota are not educational institutions, because they are not recognized as schools apart from the compulsory education ages."
Although homeschool students are still receiving the required 20 hours of instruction weekly and are in compliance with the state’s homeschool laws, they were no longer considered students enrolled in a school, and therefore excluded from eligibility for benefits. The new POMS issued by SSA resolved this issue for both Minnesota and Michigan.