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U.S. Rep. John Katko unveiled a proposal this week he says will eliminate barriers to marriage for people with disabilities. 

Katko, R-Camillus, sponsored a bill that would protect Supplemental Security Income benefits for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. When two people who rely on SSI marry, their benefits could be at risk because they must jointly report incomes. 

SSI is provided to people with disabilities who lack income. The assistance helps cover basic expenses, such as clothing, food and housing. 

An issue paper published by the Social Security Administration in 2003 details how SSI benefits are affected by marriage. If two people who receive SSI benefits marry, they would receive 25 percent less than they would if they lived together but didn't marry. 

"People with intellectual and developmental disabilities should not have to choose between marriage and their disability benefits," Katko said. 

Katko's bill, which is co-sponsored by Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, would ensure SSI benefits aren't affected by marital status. To calculate SSI benefits for an individual with developmental or intellectual disabilities, only their income and other financial information will be reviewed. Their spouse's earnings won't be a factor. 

The bill also provides access to Medicaid for those with developmental or intellectual disabilities if they qualify for SSI benefits. 

Kandi Pickard, senior vice president of the National Down Syndrome Society, urged other members of Congress to support the bill introduced by Katko and Keating. 

"Marriage is a basic civil right," Pickard said. "Individuals with disabilities deserve the freedom to secure the legal protections of marriage to build loving families and pursue the opportunities that come with the institution of marriage." 

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