Perspective: It’s past time to end the marriage penalty

smiling husband and wife

Love seems to always be in the air during spring. My husband and I will soon celebrate 42 years of marriage, and we feel so very blessed.

Though I was born with cerebral palsy, I have never received Social Security benefits related to my disability. So when we got married, I didn’t have to worry about losing any SSI (Supplemental Security Income) or SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) benefits.

But others do have to worry. Too often, people with disabilities cannot get married without losing their benefits, or at least having them greatly reduced. Advocates refer to this as “the marriage penalty.”

This federal policy hasn’t been updated since 1989. That means the income guidelines that were used do not coincide with pay rates and the cost of living today. While there are times when people who rely on SSI or SSDI are able to legally marry without penalty, that is the exception rather than the rule. Most of the time, they will face some type of loss of benefits, especially SSI. Here in Franklin County and elsewhere, people with disabilities often choose to marry “in the eyes of the church” or in another type of commitment ceremony that is not legally binding.

Currently, the asset limit for people receiving benefits is $2,000 for a single person and $3,000 for a married couple. They can own a car or a house, but since they cannot have much money in the bank, they don’t necessarily have funds to pay for unanticipated expenses. This keeps people impoverished. People generally can work only limited, part-time hours if they want to keep all of their SSI or SSDI benefits.

All of us can encourage our legislators to eliminate these marriage penalties and update the 35-year-old policy. For more information and to take action, go to and click on Public Policy, then go to the Action Center. Look for the tabs urging Congress to update SSI and eliminate marriage penalties.

Ohioans with disabilities and others across our great land should have the right to marry if they choose, without having to ponder a devastating loss of benefits. They deserve the simpler worries that accompany married life – like why your spouse didn’t change the empty toilet paper roll.

Denise Blackburn-Smith has been a service coordinator at the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities for 16 years.