Ed Murray, News 9
Financial roadblocks are keeping an Oklahoma City woman from marrying the man of her dreams. She lives in Oklahoma City. He is in Louisiana. Both have Downs Syndrome and receive necessary state and federal aid benefits they will lose if they tie the knot.
Current laws forbid either from having more than $2,000 in their name in order to keep those benefits which include Medicaid and life skills support, but that wasn't on their minds when they met at a Downs Syndrome conference nine years ago.
"When I first saw him, I knew that he was the one that I always loved in my heart," Heather Hancock says.
Hancock and Craig Blackburn got to know each other better over the next five years. Then, four years ago, during a romantic dinner in Kansas City, "He put me out in the center of the room and he told me that he had me from hello. And he dropped to his knee and he asked me to marry him," she said.
Setting a date, though, has been stymied by financial roadblocks. For instance, Hancock has health issues that would be considered pre-existing if she was forced to get insurance on her own with a new husband.
"Once they become married, she loses all her medical benefits through her husband," Hancock's mother, Lisa, said.
If Hancock moves out of state, then she loses all her benefits and programs here in the state that help to support her to be independent in the community.
And the same would happen to Blackburn if he were to move here. Getting jobs that pay enough to cover their medical expenses is nearly impossible.
"It's even harder for them, I mean way harder for them to find jobs and they need the support and the help from their family to even procure those jobs," Lisa Hancock said. "We want her to be happy and that's the ultimate. And we want her to be a productive citizen, be able to contribute to society, and support herself."
Heather is determined. She's already reached one dream--an office job as an administrative assistant.
"My dream is to live in Oklahoma and be married. That's always been my dream. How much longer do you think it will take? For whatever it takes."
One hope for wedding bells is for Congress to pass the ABLE Act which would allow families with disabilities to accumulate savings for such things as healthcare, education, and housing, without disqualifying them from critical programs.