Are SSI Marriage Penalties Unfair?

Two marriage rings placed on a wedding dress

Disability benefits attorneys and other advocates consider Supplemental Security Income (SSI) marriage penalties unfair and oppressive because they dissuade beneficiaries from cohabiting and marrying. Marriage penalties refer to the Social Security Administration’s rules that trigger a loss or reduction of disability benefits when an SSI beneficiary cohabits with or marries anyone, whether that person is a fellow SSI recipient or not.

How Marriage Penalties Affect SSI Recipients

Marriage penalties are contradictory, affecting people with specific disabilities while others are not affected. Some considerations for these penalties include:

In some cases, marriage leads to a lower monthly disability check. In certain cases, it causes a complete loss of disability benefits. Loss of disability benefits almost always causes one to lose health insurance as well. Many who get married also lose benefits to essential services like Section 8, welfare, food stamps, and personal care assistant (PCA) service providers.

The assumption behind reducing the benefits is that a disabled person on his or her own may require full benefits for survival. But if the person marries, he or she can share a house and lifestyle with his or her spouse for less money than if the two individuals were apart. However, the assumption cannot always be true. Living with disabilities is costly. The high cost of disabilities can quickly wipe out any efficiencies and savings achieved when two people live together as a couple.

The price that many people with disabilities pay if they get married is too steep — the significant loss of benefits, which they need to meet their need for food, shelter and their disability-related expenses. Consequently, the marriage penalties deter SSI recipients from marrying or starting a family.

Low Marriage Rates

Knowing about the penalties before marriage often makes people with disabilities avoid getting married to stop the responsibility of their care from transferring from the government to their spouse. Unsurprisingly, the overall rate of first marriage is lower for people with disabilities than their nondisabled counterparts. The overall rate of first marriage for people aged 18 to 49 is 48.9 per 1,000 in the United States, whereas it is just 24.4 for disabled people.

While 57% of all adults in the country are married, only 24% of adult SSI beneficiaries are married.

Most of the members of the disability advocacy community want to eliminate the unassailable marriage penalties. Many are expected to keep putting more pressure on Congress to pass laws that will have a more favorable impact on the SSA.

Social Security Disability

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