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Public Benefits and Living Together

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Public Benefits and Living Together
98  |  A Legal guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples
• If the rent is a bargain or is protected from dramatic increases by
a rent control ordinance, the partner who stays should consider
compensating the one who moves for the higher rent the moving
partner will have to pay in a new place, at least for a short time.
Public Benefits and Living Together
People who receive public benefits sometimes worry that they will lose
those benefits if their partner moves in. The rules vary from state to state,
but in many places, having a partner move in can cause problems. This is
especially true if you’re married, registered as domestic partners, or have
entered a civil union.
If you get benefits based on your financial situation and a physical or
mental condition—aid to the aged, blind, or disabled, for example—you
don’t risk any loss. These programs function like Social Security—once
you qualify, you’re left alone, other than when the agency does routine
reviews of recipients.
Welfare and food stamp programs, however, are based on your
financial condition only. These programs are often the subject of political
attack. As a result, you may be scrutinized in an effort to weed out
“welfare cheats.”
As a welfare recipient, you are legally required to tell the welfare
department of all changes in your circumstances that could affect your
grant. This includes living with a partner who may be paying some bills.
If you don’t report your partner’s presence and the department discovers
it, you can be penalized, or even have your grant terminated.
If you do report that you’re living with a partner, however, you’ll
face other problems. If the welfare department determines that the
other person is contributing money to you, your grant will be reduced,
normally by the amount contributed. A person is considered to be
contributing whether, for example, she gives $100 a month cash, pays
$100 of the rent, pays for food, or buys the kids $100 worth of clothing.
Moreover, some state regulations presume that a live-in lover contributes
a set amount per month to the family, whether that’s actually true or
not. And if the partner moves in with you and doesn’t contribute toward
chapter 4  | renting a home together |  99
rent and utilities (or claims that’s the case), then the partner may be
committing the crime of living off a welfare grant without qualifying for
the benefit. This situation is even trickier if you are married or legally
partnered. If your benefits come from a state-funded program, your
spouse’s income may well disqualify you from receiving benefits. But if
your benefits are federally funded, then DOMA gives you an “advantage”
in that the feds won’t recognize your relationship, so your partner’s
income probably won’t disqualify you. Of course, if DOMA is repealed
or declared unconstitutional, this won’t be true any longer.
The best advice is to treat your lover as a roommate. Under welfare
rules, a roommate is not presumed to contribute anything to a welfare
recipient. In some counties, welfare officials may require a sworn
statement by the roommate that she does not contribute to the recipient’s
support. Here are some steps to take to back up your statements.
If your total rent exceeds the maximum amount allowed by welfare
officials, be sure that your roommate pays at least enough to cover the
difference. And make sure the bigger room belongs to your partner.
Keep all finances separate. Make sure you don’t have any access to or
control over any of your partner’s money—or the welfare department will
conclude your lover is contributing to the family. Also make sure your
partner doesn’t have access to your money or the welfare department will
conclude your partner is living off your grant.
Buy and store food separately. Keep cupboards marked with each
person’s name in case of a home visit by the social worker.
Keep a receipt book or ledger. It should show that each of you is paying
only one person’s share of expenses such as rent and utilities.
Your partner should keep car registration in sole ownership. Yes, all this
is quite a hassle, but worth it. Welfare crackdowns come unpredictably and
can lead to jail sentences, not just the termination of benefits.
If possible, discuss your situation with a sympathetic caseworker before
you set up housekeeping or apply for benefits. Most welfare departments
can be a bit easier to deal with if you use a little planning.
If one of you is receiving public assistance or benefits, be very careful
how you take title to property or hold your financial assets. It can seem
tempting to put or buy all property in the name of the partner who is
100  |  A Legal guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples
not receiving public aid. But doing so can cause two serious problems.
First, you may be exposing yourselves to claims of welfare fraud. Second,
if you separate, the person whose name is “off title” will have a very hard
time convincing any judge or jury that the property was jointly owned. In
sum, even though we frequently question what passes for the “morality”
of government policy, it’s bad karma, as well as a bad idea, to lie in order
to get or keep public funds.
Resource
All the information you might need to know about your rights as
a tenant can be found in Every Tenant’s Legal Guide, by Janet Portman and
Marcia Stewart. Californians should take a look at California Tenants’ Rights, by
Janet Portman and David Brown. Both books are published by Nolo.
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