Washington DC - The United States maintains the strongest military in the world. Our freedoms, our liberties, and the greatness of this country are secured by the brave men and women who sign up to serve. We must honor the sacrifices these men and women make when they lay down their lives for their country. It is unacceptable that surviving military spouses are still subject to the “Widow’s Tax” after their loved ones die in service to their country. The time for repealing this unjust law is now.
The “Widow’s Tax” is a reduction of Department of Defense annuity payments to surviving spouses as part of a Veteran’s Affairs benefit called the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation program. This program is specifically meant to prove respect for families when a servicemember dies from injuries or disease sustained in the line of duty. The Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) is a Department of Defense insurance plan that families pay into with monthly premiums. Under current law, surviving spouses are subject to an unfair dollar-for-dollar reduction of SBP payments based on the amount of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. This offset wipes out most, if not all, of the SBP entitlement and affects over 62,000 widows and widowers.
I know many affected by this unjust tax. It is heart-wrenching to hear the stories of those who lost their spouses and then found out they are subject to a reduction in their insurance plans, which they have been paying into for years. That’s why I first introduced the “Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act” to repeal the “Widow’s Tax” in 2011. We have been working for years with Veterans Service Organizations and advocates who dedicate countless hours to repeal this unfair offset.
This year is different. Momentum behind the legislation has garnered 377 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, the most co-sponsors of any bill in the 116th Congress. The Nation’s Gold Star families deserved a stand-alone vote and representatives from both sides of the aisle have agreed now is the time. Unfortunately, surviving families were denied a stand-alone vote. I was disappointed that the House majority chose to deny this bipartisan bill a chance of a floor vote and instead included it in the partisan 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
I was honored to be named as a Conferee for the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act where House and Senate members will adjudicate their respective National Defense Authorization Acts to send to the president. I will continue to fight for inclusion of the “Widow’s Tax” in the final bill because we need to finally restore the benefits to surviving families that they so rightly deserve. I am determined to advance repeal of this offset – either through the NDAA or with a stand-alone vote on The Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act.
Repeal of the “Widow’s Tax” will cost $570 million per year. This is a substantial cost, but we have a method to pay for it. My team worked with the majority and House Budget Committee, led by Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), to identify a suitable offset to pay for this bill. Unfortunately, inaction and partisan tactics resulted in a rejection of attempts to find an alternative method to fund the bill. This is not how our surviving spouses who lost loved ones in service to this country deserve to be treated.
I appreciate the extraordinary bipartisan support for this legislation to remain in the NDAA, we can no longer treat our surviving spouses as an afterthought. It’s time to axe the “Widow’s Tax.”
Congressman Wilson represents South Carolina’s 2nd District. He is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and serves on the Strategic Forces and Readiness subcommittees.