This Valentine’s Day, as many as 6
million couples
will choose to celebrate their love by
becoming engaged. But for many people with IDD, this dream of marriage forces
them to choose between love and necessary supports to live independently.

When Jen Met Eddie…

Jen and Eddie at an advocacy event.

Eddie and Jen first met while planning an Oregon
self-advocacy event in 2006. They both noticed each other across a table and
shared with friends that they thought the other was cute. Eventually, Eddie and
Jen started getting lunch together and going out – and decided to become
girlfriend and boyfriend.

At lunch one day, Eddie popped the question for the
first time to Jen. She asked him to come to Christmas with her and ask for her
parents’ permission. At Christmas, Eddie popped the question again. “I got on
one knee and asked her hand in marriage. It was quite nice.”

Both Eddie and Jen are long-time professional self-advocates and knew of the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) marriage penalties. The marriage penalties are punitive rules that cut benefits and limit savings for married couples who rely on critical Social Security SSI benefits.

While they wanted to get married, Eddie and Jen were
terrified of what getting married would mean for their lives.

Jen, who has a spinal condition that requires
24-hour medical assistance, explains, “I would lose my Medicaid and have to pay
out of pocket for medical needs, and I don’t earn enough to pay out-of-pocket
for medications or other medical equipment.”

Eddie, who lives in an adult foster home, adds, “It would impact me significantly if I lost my benefits. I would have no money to live on…. I would have no place to live, [as the rental costs in my county are very high].”

In the end, Jen and Eddie decided not to pursue a
legal marriage—and this has meant giving up dreams, big and small.

Both Eddie and Jen wanted to foster a child and become
parents, and they believed that they would be great parents to a little boy or
girl. However, without a legal marriage, this dream seemed far away. Now in
their late 40s, they are not sure if it could ever happen.

And, while Eddie and Jen are committed to each
other, not having a legal marriage means not having the legal backing to make
medical decisions for each other if needed. According to Jen, “we’d like to [be
able to] make medical decisions for our partner.” But, without the legal
standing, Eddie and Jen may not be able to do this.

For the
past several years, Eddie and Jen have been advocating to remove this unjust
rule that no couple should have to deal with.

 “It’s an unfair [rule] that has been around forever. We should be able to [get married and not worry about our benefits], just like everyone else. People don’t understand that people with disabilities are just like everyone else. We pay taxes, we work, [and] we contribute to society.”

Jen and
Eddie’s story is one of many. Married people with disabilities often experience
penalties that force the couple to give up necessary benefits to marry. This
may mean taking a pay cut, working less, or having to quit a job altogether.

No one should have to decide between being legally married and getting the support they need to live in the community.

The post When People with Disabilities are Forced to Choose Between Love & Needed Benefits: Marriage Penalties appeared first on The Arc.