Bob Branco is a blind listener from the New Bedford area and he has a few words for the government.

"I would like to talk about the marriage penalty for people on very fixed incomes. Before I explain, let me assure all of you that I strongly encourage everyone to go to work if they can. However as we know, sometimes circumstances dictate otherwise, such as age, illness, or extreme physical limitations. As for the marriage penalty, the Government is perfectly willing to cut the second spouse’s SSI benefit by 50 percent as long as the first spouse reports an income of $750 per month. Further, the second spouse's entire SSI benefit will be eliminated completely if the first spouse makes a little more. My information came directly from a caseworker named Erin at our local social security office. I met with her because I wanted to do more research as part of my advocacy with the legislators. In simpler terms, the Government is totally satisfied with a married couple making a combined income of $1,300 per month or even less. How do I know this? I crunched the numbers. Legislators regard this as a "couple's income", even though it can be difficult for just one person to live on $1,300 a month under certain circumstances. I need to remind the Government of a simple mathematical fact. Two is greater than one. In a marriage, there is another mouth to feed, another person who may have medical expenses, another person who wears clothing, another person who needs to take care of oneself, etc. Isn't it common sense that two people spend more money than one person? We are constantly being told that household expenses do not double if a second person is added to the household. That is correct. However, just the mere fact that a second person lives in the house automatically means that expenses increase to a degree.

So what is the Government thinking? If their attempt at penalizing married couples on fixed incomes is to motivate one of these spouses to get a job in order to justify supporting the other spouse, then this same Government should become a stronger advocate for persons with disabilities regarding gainful and productive employment.

Let me assure all of you that I don’t think we should take federal subsidy for granted. I know that SSI is a “needs based” program and should only be given to people who qualify and absolutely need it. The question is, How far does the need go? If a married couple is making a combined income of $1,300 a month because of circumstances beyond their control, and can’t survive the marriage financially, doesn’t it make sense that they “NEED” something extra? I would love to ask a very rich legislator what he would do if he was told that he couldn’t marry his future spouse because of financial problems. Would he get it then?

Some day I may want to get married. With that said, trust me when I tell you that I enjoy being employed when I am employed, and I always do everything in my power to achieve employment. When I am out of work, it is not by choice.

I have been in contact with Congressman Keating’s district office, as well as other regional Congressional offices throughout Massachusetts. I have also contacted the office of Congresswoman Lucille Loybal-Allard of California. My goal is to convince someone to sponsor a bill that would either amend or remove the marriage penalty entirely. God knows that I am getting absolutely nowhere with both Massachusetts senators.

Blind couples, as well as any other couple in this situation, should not have to be intimidated by a system that prevents them from doing what they want to do for themselves.

Here’s another scary trend. Being that so many people are intimidated by the system to the point where they decide not to get married, it seems easier for councilors, religious people and other authority figures to come up with alternative solutions. I recently spoke to a local pastor about how blind couples are afraid to marry because of the financial penalty, and she actually suggested that they marry without telling the Government. Imagine that! A local Pastor suggesting that I be dishonest with the Government. Another friend of mine, who happens to be a true Catholic, suggests that these couples have commitment ceremonies instead of marriage ceremonies because all God wants is for us to respect and be kind to one another. I was raised as a Catholic, so I understand the trends in society which make me wonder what it is exactly that God expects regarding the sacrament of marriage. Yet ironically, we are also told that the Government must separate Church from State. However, it isn’t doing that when it interferes with the financial well being of married couples. Instead, Government encourages alternatives that a lot of religious people don’t want to do." - Bob Branco

KODAK Digital Still Camera
Photo credit: Bob Branco

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