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Lift marriage penalty for disabled couples

The Daily Record - 1/23/2020

Inflexible government bureaucracy shouldn’t be the primary reason that “happily ever after” is elusive for developmentally disabled couples who want to marry.

And it is less rare than you might think for two people with severe disabilities to fall in love and want to spend the rest of their lives together.

The challenge that keeps couples in this situation from legally becoming man and wife is federal law that, if they marry, reduces the Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid health care coverage they receive as individuals below a level they cannot afford to go.

It is a marriage penalty that a Republican New York congressman is working to lift.

Rep. John Katko introduced the Marriage Access for People with Special Abilities Act, H.R. 1529, last March and has gathered bipartisan support of 16 colleagues from 11 states, including four other Republicans and 12 Democrats.

No members of Congress from Ohio have signed on as co-sponsors. That is an oversight we would like to see remedied soon.

We’re not talking about a windfall that anyone with a heart would begrudge these individuals.

For Sherri and Bill Adams, a couple recently profiled in The Dispatch, their SSI support combined is less than $2,000 a month. It’s enough for them to get by, but they would not have been able to marry — as they did Jan. 4 in Lucasville — if they had not discovered a way to avoid having their benefits cut due to their marriage.

The former Sherri Daniel was able to avoid a cut in her benefits when marrying Adams by taking some of her assistance in a survivor benefit derived from Social Security that her deceased father received. She deals with spinal stenosis and a form of short-limbed dwarfism and her new husband has cerebral palsy.

A happy ending still awaits four other individuals — Michelle Harrigill of Clintonville and Ethan Boerner of Reynoldsburg and Licking County couple Jordan Boring and Sarah Burkett — all of whom have Down syndrome, a condition affecting about 250,000 people nationwide.

Harrigill and Boerner were engaged last summer but haven’t set a wedding date for fear of losing their assistance.

Boring and Burkett professed their love in a commitment ceremony in December 2018 but remain legally apart to preserve their disability benefits.

It is worth noting that none of these developmentally disabled people is seeking any more help from the government than they are already entitled to as single individuals. But requiring them to remain separate just to retain government assistance they currently rely on seems cruel.

For most of us, having the freedom to pursue happiness — that constitutional guarantee that way too many take for granted — doesn’t come with severe potential-limiting challenges built in at birth.

For the disabled, just living day to day is tough enough. Finding a soulmate who reflects back more love than they ever expected to know should not come with barriers created by government yellow tape warning “Do not cross.”

We commend the sponsor and co-sponsors of the Marriage Access for People with Special Abilities Act and encourages Ohio’s members of Congress to help preserve rightful benefits for disabled couples who are committed to pursuing whatever happiness they can find together.

The Columbus Dispatch

CREDIT: THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

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