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Friday, January 26, 2024

Eliminating the SSI Marriage Penalty

 In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the congressional role in the issueI also have an article at The Forum: "Disability Policy in the Contemporary Congress." Abstract:

The politics of disability policy in the contemporary Congress confirms the observation by James Curry and Frances Lee that lawmaking largely remains a process of bipartisan accommodation. Most major disability legislation since the 1970s has passed with bipartisan sponsorship and support. One reason is that the issue affects so many Americans, including members of Congress. There have been some exceptions to this bipartisan pattern, particularly when disability policy intersects with more contentious issues. And bipartisanship does not guarantee outcomes that are satisfactory to people with disabilities.
A release from Rep. David Valadao (R-CA):
Today at the Kern Regional Center, Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-22) announced the introduction of a bipartisan bill to remove the marriage penalty for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for individuals with disabilities. Currently, benefits for a married couple who both receive SSI and have no other income amount to 25% less than their non-married counterparts. H.R. 7055, The Eliminating the Marriage Penalty in SSI Act (EMPSA) seeks to address this shortfall and ensure individuals with disabilities are not penalized by the federal government for getting married.

“Individuals with intellectual disabilities shouldn’t be punished for getting married, but sadly that’s exactly what’s happening with their reduction in SSI benefits,” said Congressman Valadao. “I introduced the Eliminating the Marriage Penalty in SSI Act to ensure married adults with intellectual disabilities have the resources they need to meet their basic needs and lead independent lives. Thank you to one of my constituents, Kelly, who brought this issue to my team’s attention on behalf of her daughter.”

“No one should be penalized for getting married, especially when it comes to accessing the critical benefits that so many people in our community rely on,” said Congresswoman Susie Lee. “I’m fighting in Congress to make sure families have all the resources and opportunities they need to succeed and live their lives to the fullest. The Eliminating the Marriage Penalty in SSI Act is a much-needed step toward ensuring married adults with diagnosed intellectual and developmental disabilities get every dollar of the Supplemental Security Income they deserve.”

Rep. Valadao announced the bill during a tour of Kern Regional Center (KRC), a private, nonprofit regional center contracted by the State of California through the Department of Developmental Services to coordinate community-based services and support for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. This visit allowed Rep. Valadao to hear directly from a couple who would be impacted by this legislation, as well as learn more about the important work being done by KRC to help individuals with developmental disabilities achieve an independent and productive life.

"Having Rep. Valadao and his staff visit KRC to see what we do at the regional center and hear firsthand from people we serve who are married was a great opportunity for us all to learn more about how we can continue advocating for this important legislation," said KRC Executive Director Dr. Michi Gates.

Rep. Valadao was joined during the tour by KRC's Executive Director Dr. Michi Gates, Board President Tracey Mensch, Associate Director for Intake Kristine Khuu, Assistant Director of Early Childhood Services Lulu Cavillo, Director of Client Services Celia Pinal, Director of Community Services Enrique Roman, and Chief Financial Officer Tom Wolfram. During his visit, Rep. Valadao sat down with Kelly Kulzer-Reyes, a parent whose message to Rep. Valadao's office inspired the legislation, as well as Micaela and Diego Cruz, a married couple who have been impacted by the SSI marriage penalty.

The Eliminating the Marriage Penalty in SSI Act is endorsed by Autism Speaks, Autism Society of America, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Down Syndrome Congress, National Down Syndrome Society, and Gigi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Centers.

"We extend our heartfelt gratitude to all the Representatives and offices involved for their invaluable commitment to allowing individuals with IDD to marry without being penalized. At the National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC), we advocate for equal rights and opportunities for people with Down syndrome, including their right to decide who they want to date and possibly marry. The EMPSA bill will allow an SSI recipient with IDD to marry another SSI beneficiary without fear of loss or reduction in critical benefits,” said Stephanie Smith Lee, Interim Executive Director, National Down Syndrome Congress.

“The current Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program asset limits, which have not been raised in 40 years, are a major disincentive for people with Down syndrome who wish to get married,” said Michelle Sie Whitten, President and CEO of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation (GLOBAL). “We are grateful for Congressman Valadao’s leadership in advancing the bipartisan Eliminating the Marriage Penalty in SSI Act, which will allow all people with intellectual disabilities to marry without being financially penalized. The ability to get married is so important for mental health and is a basic human and civil right.

Read the full text of the bill here.

Read a one-page summary of the bill here