by Bob Branco
(Editor’s Note: You can reach Bob Branco via e-mail, [email protected].)
When two people decide to get married, where at least one of the spouses is on federal subsidy because of a disability, the government has a tendency to cut benefits from the married couple based on income. Yet, if these same people decide to cohabitate, they get to keep all their money. Please keep in mind that if a couple decides to marry after living together, their expenses do not change. They still eat the same food, wear the same clothes, clean the house the same way, pay their rent the same way, and shop for groceries the same way.
Let's put this all in perspective. Yes, all of us have the right to make our own choices. At the same time, there is a portion of our population who choose to get married for the obvious reasons. They should be able to marry without fear of losing money. If the government thinks that it's so terrible for people to depend on subsidy in order to run a household, then why don't they take it away from people who cohabitate? I'm not saying that it's right or wrong to cut federal subsidies from anybody, but it seems to me that the government is allowing cohabitation more than it allows marriage, based on its actions.
While this is going on, the government is always encouraged to separate church from state. I don't think the government makes this separation here. To Catholics, marriage is a sacrament. To the government, where people with disabilities are concerned, it doesn't seem to matter. People with disabilities who want to exercise the sacrament of marriage will be penalized for it.
I am blind, and I am also trying as hard as possible to get a job. Some day, I want to get married. I want to apply my moral beliefs and go through with it for all the right reasons. I wouldn't want to stay single because a system puts the fear of God in us. If I do marry, and if my wife and I are subject to cuts, how would we do it? I have figured out that the formula the government uses in order to determine how much subsidy to cut from married couples with disabilities keeps these couples way below the poverty level.
I know couples with disabilities who want to get married, but they are frightened. What if their benefits are reduced? How could they survive? I also knew a couple who was engaged for 10 years, with no intentions of getting married. The reason was very clear. They were afraid to marry because the benefits from one of the spouses would be slashed. The man, who passed away, was in a wheelchair, and the woman is legally blind. Neither one had a job at the time. I've even heard of couples who get divorced for financial reasons, and not because they were no longer in love. Is this how America should be? I say no. If you want to cohabitate, it's your right, but if you really want to get married, that is also your right.
It's easy for someone to say, "Get a job." Yes, we all want to work, but many of us are out of work, and not by our own choosing. So, while we are looking for work, we still have to eat, shop, put clothes on our backs, clean the house, pay rent, buy medicine, etc. These needs do not stop just because we aren't working yet. It takes time, especially for those of us with disabilities, to get a job, even though we spend twice as much energy looking. People with disabilities want to work as much as anyone else, and I'm sure that many of these people who are forced to receive federal assistance don't want it. However, if the circumstances aren't what we want them to be, life still must go on.
In closing, allow me to bring some scary irony to this discussion. In Massachusetts, there is a law on the books forbidding lewd and lascivious cohabitation. Though no one is ever caught, that isn't the point. It's just ironic because these cohabitators appear to be rewarded by the government. So, in Massachusetts, couples with disabilities have two choices: either they do something illegal or go broke.
I am asking people to help me send a message to either the federal government or the Massachusetts government, with concrete evidence as to why marriages of people with disabilities can't survive the financial cuts that are forced on them.