Outdated notions about marriage, work must be addressed by Congress

by Pam Shlemon, executive director, Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification  The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program was developed to provide […]

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by Pam Shlemon, executive director, Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification 

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program was developed to provide financial assistance to disabled individuals. In 2023, 7,430 Americans benefited from SSI. Though there are millions of American citizens with disabilities, eligibility requirements prevent many individuals from receiving SSI assistance. I am the executive director at the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC). CRCC designs and administers the internationally renowned Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) Certification Program to recognize mastery of well-defined bodies of knowledge within the rehabilitation counseling discipline. CRCs assess and evaluate clients to cultivate an environment where they can achieve their personal and professional goals, build greater self-efficacy and autonomy, develop a sense of belonging within their communities, and live fully integrated lives. 

CRCs also advocate for its clients and help them understand how to navigate complex systems like SSI. The federal asset limit for disabled individuals is just $2,000. Anyone with more than $2,000 in a bank account is ineligible to access SSI benefits. For married couples, the limit increases to just $3,000. This is known as the “marriage penalty” because it is more difficult for married couples with disabilities to receive assistance from SSI than individuals.

Congress intends to address this issue with the introduction of H.R.6405, or the Marriage Equality for Disabled Adults Act. This piece of legislation would increase the federal asset limit to $10,000 for individuals, and $20,000 for married couples. This bill was introduced in January 2022, and has stalled in the halls of Congress since.

In September 2023, 20 couples gathered at the National Mall to rally in support of the bill. 

Looking at economic conditions, it is easy to understand why both individuals and couples want something to change. The average national rent price in the United States is $1,372 (Forbes), and U.S. households containing an adult with a disability spend about 28 percent more income to obtain the same standard of living as a household with no disability (National Disability Institute). Financial instability is a common struggle among clients of CRCs, and a lack of federal assistance is far from the only reason for this. When an already stressed economy is compounded with additional expenses for disabled individuals, the community is put at a distinct financial disadvantage. 

The Fair Labor Standards Act permits employers to pay workers who have disabilities less than minimum wage. This practice is known as subminimum wage, which advocates call exploitative and discriminatory. In November 2023, more than 20 disability advocacy groups signed a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Labor demanding action to do away with this program. However, proponents of the policy say that ending the program would limit employment opportunities for disabled individuals. 

After hearing arguments from both sides, 15 states have rolled back subminimum wage policies. Additionally, the Department of Labor is currently undergoing a comprehensive review of the program. As society moves away from outdated schools of thought regarding disability policy, more people are realizing that disabled individuals have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else, from a stable career to a healthy marriage. 

Lawmakers are increasingly understanding that disabled Americans cannot be ignored. Regardless of where you stand on these policies, it is important to educate yourself and make your voice heard in an election year by supporting candidates you trust to take action to support the disabled community. 

To learn more about CRCC, visit www.crccertification.com 

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