Many of us are fortunate enough to homeschool in stable circumstances: two-parent households, steady employment, and the food, shelter, and basic necessities we need to survive.
There are challenges to be sure, and sacrifices that need to be made. But those challenges and sacrifices are far harder if a spouse is disabled or passes away. While a government check can’t mend these tragedies, it can provide a lifeline in a heartbreaking situation.
Back in March, we reported that homeschoolers in two states—Michigan and Minnesota—were being denied Social Security benefits because they were homeschooled. Thankfully, that is no longer the case after two congressmen intervened to correct the problem.
Home School Legal Defense Association is extremely grateful for Congressman Tom Emmer, Congressman Tim 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.
In order to receive benefits past age 18, high school students must demonstrate that they are still enrolled full-time in an educational institution (EI) as defined by federal law.
Congress has made it clear over the years that homeschools count as “EIs,” as long as they comply with their state’s homeschool law. But the Social Security Administration had policies for Michigan and Minnesota declaring that, since state homeschool laws aren’t mandatory past compulsory school attendance age (18 in Michigan, 17 in Minnesota), the state wouldn’t recognize a homeschool as an “EI” for students who are past those ages (even though it recognized public schools as EIs for students past compulsory attendance age).
Essentially, these states were denying homeschool students their benefits because they did not consider them to be “students” enrolled in “school.”
HSLDA has 40 active appeals with Social Security in Michigan and Minnesota on behalf of homeschooling families. Given the scope of the problem, we have also been working to get these policies overturned—with no real progress up to now.
Then, a week-and-a-half ago, we received an email from the staff of Congressmen Emmer and Walberg, who we had approached many months ago for assistance. After pressuring the SSA, they were pleased to report that new policies had been issued, which once again place homeschools on the same footing as all other educational institutions.
Both policies point out that it is not unusual that “a child’s attendance in grade 12 may continue past his or her 18th birthday.” They also point to “the parallel recognition of attendance by public school students” who are subject to the same compulsory attendance standard. If public school students are eligible past compulsory attendance age, homeschooled students should be, too.
There’s still work to be done. Now that the policy has been changed, we are in the process of notifying the various local offices and administrative law judges where our appeals are currently pending.
The gears move slowly, so it will likely be months before benefits are finally restored for these families. But thanks to these new policies, they should finally be on the right track.
HSLDA Federal Relations Liaison Maggie McKneely contributed to this article.