Monday, October 6, 2008

SSI 'Marriage Penalty'

Generally I steer clear of news stories on here, but this is more than a news story. I want all of my friends, family and supporters to know what the government/the system has been doing to people with disabilities. No, the ADA was not the cure-all that many people think. YES! - WE ARE STILL OPPRESSED!!! Until people with disabilities can marry and still earn money to support themselves, while keeping vital Medicaid, the goverment is dissing marriage and the family. The government is, in fact, contributing to poverty in America.

This is not just a news story, this is my reality, our reality. We were discouraged from getting married because of the disincentives you will read about below. We would be much better off financially if we were to divorce -- atleast then we could earn enough to provide for ourselves. I have seen people do this. A spouse becomes disabled, but cannot qualify for assistance because the non-disabled spouse has some kind of income, or they have even a couple thousand in savings. The medical costs are astronomical - and first priority obviously. They have no choice but to divorce! A family breaks...and this couple will probably end up living a lie, or out of fear, completely sever ties. And if they have children...... "Honey, we love each other but mommy and daddy can't live together" just doesn't cut it.

Sorry, I am a bit conservative here.......this is a crime and our system/the government is the villian. The system needs to support SUCCESS, FAMILIES and MARRIAGE, not OPPRESSION, LIES and BROKEN HOMES.

All my life, I've been told this one issue is too big to change, it's not gonna change in my lifetime. (except the brief time I lived in MT!)

Today I thank Montana for taking the issue into their own hands and forging on to conquer the SSI Mariage Penalty!


Readers, please read the brief story and the detailed press release below...

Missoula, MT--- In a packed room, with U.S. Senate Finance Committee staff linked in by phone, Montana People First members and others offered personal testimony about the pain and suffering caused by the SSI "marriage penalty." Following the testimony, they presented over 2500 petition signatures they had collected from citizens all over Montana to a local staff member of Sen. Max Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. In addition to the monetary penalty suffered by SSI recipients who marry, those presenting testimony cited additional penalties such as;

* Not being able to openly celebrate their love and commitment to one another in the company of friends and family
* Not being able to inherit one another's estates as a spouse
* Not being able to get information when their partner is in the hospital
* Not being able to make end of life decisions for their partner when necessary
* Not being able to make funeral arrangements for their partner
* Not being able to live openly as husband and wife
Montana People First members hope that their efforts will inspire others around the country to join them in asking their Senators and Representatives to take legal action to remove the marriage penalty from the SSI program. More information is available below in the Media Advisory issued on Thursday by Disability Rights Montana, which is supporting the Montana People First Senate in the campaign to end the SSI marriage penalty.
Rocky Hughes, President of Montana People First, hands Holly Luck, local staff of Sen. Max Baucus, a book containing over 2500 signatures gathered by People First members all over Montana to request removal of the SSI 'Marriage Penalty'.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 26, 2008
Media Advisory
Contact: Raylynn Lauderdale, Disability Rights Montana, (406) 449-2344

Montana Couples with Disabilities Take on SSI Marriage Penalty

Who: People First of Montana

What: Present personal testimony on the SSI “Marriage Penalty,” and a petition with 2500 signatures to Montana’s Congressional delegation. The testimony and petition ask for Congress to change SSI policies that discriminate against people with disabilities who marry, and that punish them for celebrating marriage and family values.

Where: Jorgenson’s Inn & Suites, 1714 11th Ave, Helena, Montana – large downstairs meeting room

When: 3 p.m., Friday, September 26, 2008

Why: Many people with disabilities live on a $637/month federal SSI benefit, an amount that is about 75% of the poverty level. When two unmarried SSI recipients live in the same household and share expenses, each continues to receive a full $637/month SSI benefit. However, when two people with disabilities of the opposite sex marry, and one or both receive SSI, their combined benefit as a couple ($956/month) is reduced to 75% of the total of their two individual benefits($637/mo + $637/mo = $1274/month)

As a result, SSI recipients with disabilities who wish to marry like their typical peers, in accordance with social convention and/or their faith, hesitate to do so, or choose not to marry at all rather than risk the loss of precious dollars needed for basic food and shelter, as well as for disability related expenses.

Seeking to challenge this policy that treats people who share households differently based on their marital status, People First of Montana enlisted the assistance of several other groups to form a Montana Marriage Penalty Task Force. Members of the Task Force come from Disability Rights Montana, Montana People First, the Montana Advocacy Coalition, the State Independent Living Council, the disability rights organization ADAPT, th e Rural Institute at the University of Montana, and the general citizenry.

Why is there a marriage penalty?

The original reduction in benefits for a married couple, or a couple deemed to be married under Social Security rules, was put into place on the premise that there are “economies of scale” when two or more people live together. This “economies of scale” premise in SSI was patterned on the “economies of scale” present in the TANF program (originally ADC/AFDC) for families. When Congress implemented this “economies of scale” concept for married SSI recipients, they did so with no consideration for the extra costs faced by people with disabilities because of their disabilities.

And since SSI monthly benefit amounts have not kept up with the steadily rising costs of food, shelter and transportation, etc., an SSI dollar buys less and less every year. “Priced Out in 2006,” a national housing study published in 2007, found that the national average rent for a studio/efficiency apartment was less than a full SSI monthly benefit.

A further complication exists for people with disabilities because the definition of "married" under the SSI program is broader than the common definition. The Social Security Administration (SSA) may deem a couple to be “married” for SSI purposes if they “hold themselves out as20husband and wife to their community,” even though they do not meet the legal definition for marriage in the state in which they live. The expanded definition of marriage applies to situations where either one or both members of a couple are receiving SSI.

Typically when applying for SSI, proof of marital status is not required if the person does not live with an unrelated person of the opposite sex, and claims not to be married. However, if a person lives with an unrelated person of the opposite sex, each must explain their relationship and answer certain questions. Some of these questions include what names the two are known by, whether they introduce themselves as “husband and wife,” what names they use on their mail, who owns or rents their home, and if there are any bills, installment contracts, tax returns or other papers that show them as husband and wife.

How people answer those questions, along with other factors, is used by SSA to determine whether two individuals have “held themselves out to the community as married." Therefore, SSA can consider a couple to be married even if the couple has never been legally married.

Too often, people with disabilities who rely on SSI choose to live secretly with a partner to maintain vital benefits at amounts that barely cover basic food and shelter costs.

The U.S. Supreme Court has found that SSA’s marriage penalty does not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which prevents the government from depriving citizens of property, without due process. Unless another avenue for legal challenge emerges, Congress is the remedy for any potential “fix” that would change SSA regulations so that each beneficiary is treated as an individual.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this Tammy! We need to keep spreading the word, telling the world, that people with disabilities and those of us who love someone with a disability should have the same rights and privileges as everyone else. We should not have to live under the constant stress of having the only viable source of health insurance taken away simply because we want to live as a married couple. That is something so many others take for granted! Let's keep spreading the word...maybe Oprah would like to listen??
T & D in MT

Anonymous said...

...and the politicians talk so much about family values...except when it comes to people with disabilities! I hear the stories all the time, and it burns me up! The marriage penalty is outmoded and outdated, and should be abolished. Thanks, Tammy, for sharing this. I bet we can do something similar in New York to what the folks n Montana are doing to raise awareness of this issue.


Anita in Rochester

Anonymous said...

Family Values is just a rant on the Right. They mean nothing. The Nazis said they supported Family Values. I always ask--whose family? Whose values? I agree with you so much here Tammy.