Marriage Penalty of a Disabled Adult Child (DAC)

What is the DAC?

The Disabled Adult Child or DAC benefit is a Social Security Administration (SSA) disability benefit. It is a “secondary” benefit, ie it is based on the work record of another person (in this case, the recipient’s parent). A DAC beneficiary must be a dependent “adult child” with an eligible disability that began before age 22. Beneficiaries must be unable to engage in “substantial gainful activity” due to their disability. There are approximately 1.1 million DAC beneficiaries.

CAD recipients receive a monthly allowance and Medicare. Additionally, many DAC recipients receive Medicaid because of their DAC status. Medicaid covers personal attendant care and other disability-related services and devices not covered by private insurance.

What happens if CAD recipients get married?

People receiving DAC benefits lose their monthly allowance and Medicare if they marry; they may also lose their Medicaid. The only exceptions are if the DAC beneficiary marries another DAC, a person receiving Social Security disability insurance, a person entitled to SSA “old age” benefits (at the earliest age 62), or a person receiving another secondary service. The loss of Medicare, Medicaid and the allowance would put the lives of many severely disabled people at risk. As a result, many CAD recipients cannot marry the person of their choice.

Is DAC the only SSA benefit with marriage penalties?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients can lose their allowance and Medicaid if they marry someone with ordinary (or higher) income or asset levels, because SSA counts the spouse’s income and assets. If two SSI recipients marry, both people face a 25% reduction in benefits and the asset limit.

And every secondary benefit recipient — not just DAC recipients — can lose their benefit eligibility by marriage.

Why are the marriage penalties affecting the DAC and other disabled recipients of SSA benefits particularly unfair?

The penalties that prevent DACs and other disabled recipients of SSA benefits from marrying are particularly unfair:

  • Eligible persons with disabilities are by definition unable to work at a level of “substantial gainful activity”, which means that recipients with disabilities cannot easily take positive action to make up for the allowances and health benefits they lose. ‘they get married.
  • The DAC is the only secondary benefit based on the beneficiary’s disability. Also, unlike other secondary benefits, the DAC benefit is associated with young age (disabilities beginning before age 22), which means that the marriage penalty applies throughout the years and ages in which many people want to get married and start a family.
  • Our country has historically organized its systems for delivering medical care and disability support services through Medicare and Medicaid, making the loss of these benefits unsustainable for people with significant disabilities.

DAC and SSI recipients live disproportionately in poverty. More than 40% of SSI recipients and almost 36% of DAC recipients have incomes below the poverty line – the two highest poverty rates of all SSA recipient categories.

Is there a way to change the law to give people with disabilities equality in marriage?

On January 13, 2022, Rep. Jimmy Panetta (CA-20) introduced HR 6405, which, if passed, would amend current law to allow DAC recipients to marry freely without losing their benefits. A California legislature resolution, SJR 8, supports the elimination of DAC marriage penalties.

Other laws, including S. 2065, would help eliminate penalties that prevent SSI recipients from marrying freely.

The references:

42 USC § 423(d)(1), (5)

42 USC § 1382(a), (b)

Benefits paid by type of beneficiary (select ‘Child of retired worker’, ‘Child of deceased worker’ and ‘Child of disabled worker’; DAC beneficiaries appear in the column labeled ‘Disabled’).

US Department of Health & Hum. Servs., Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Groups Deemed to be Receive SSI for Medicaid Purposes (June 12, 2002).

Characteristics of participants in non-institutionalized ID and SSI programs, 2013 update.

David A Weaver, Marriage and Social Security: The Case of Disabled Adult Child Beneficiaries.

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