Q: Both my fiancé and myself are physically disabled. Is it true that our SSA benefits will be reduced if we get married?
My fiancé and I both receive SSI benefits and the combined amount allows us to maintain our own residence and independence after many years of being dependent on family members for food and shelter. We both have disabilities that stem from birth defects so the likelihood of us being rehabilitated and being able to work is non-existent. We recently became engaged, however, we have been advised by SSA that one or both of our benefits will be reduced as a result of us getting married? Is this true, and if so, why does the SSA take a position so as to discourage marriage amongst those with disabilities? Why must we be forced to choose between marital happiness and the loss of income, which allows us to maintain our autonomy? I thought marriage was supposed to offer more security to individuals.
A: It is not uncommon for couples to exchange vows in order to take advantage of the tax deduction. Often the birth of a new baby is referred to as “our little tax deduction.” And the tax benefits continue for the blissfully betrothed when you throw in the mortgage interest deduction. Indeed, the many advantages of marriage were designed to make the institution more appealing. So, what to make of the seemingly arbitrary rule of the SSA in which benefits for a married couple, both of whom receive SSI and have no other income, amount to 25 percent less than the total they would receive if they were living together but not as husband and wife? (SSA website)*
Unfortunately, it is true that a married couple wherein both spouses receive SSI benefits will receive 25 percent less in total benefits than that of two individuals co-habitating. The reason for this is that the SSA takes into consideration one’s living arrangements. A person living with family will receive less benefit than a person living with a friend. The rationale behind this is they believe family members will contribute more to the needs of a SSI recipient such as food, healthcare and rent. Most likely the recipient is paying less than a fair market value share of rent. This is what is referred to as in-kind income. Likewise, a married couple will share income and expenses which allows them to live more cheaply than a single person. This is what is referred to as deemed income. It does seem egregiously unfair to individuals with disabilities but sometimes pragmatism wins out over romance. Something to think about before you say “I do.”