A Guam resident with a permanent disability has sued the Social Security Administration in the U.S. District Court of Guam, challenging the inability of Guam residents to receive support payments under the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The failure to provide benefits to people on Guam with disabilities violates the Organic Act and also the equal protection clauses of the Constitution, the lawsuit states.
Residents of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are eligible for SSI payments because the benefit is included in the CNMI covenant with the United States; however, residents of the other U.S. territories, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, were intentionally excluded from the SSI program, which started in 1972.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Guam resident Katrina Schaller, notes that her twin sister, Leslie, suffers from the same debilitating genetic disorder – myotonic dystrophy – but receives about $800 a month in SSI because she lives in Pennsylvania, not Guam.
“Katrina is denied eligibility for federal SSI benefits solely because she lives on Guam, rather than in any of the 50 states, the District of Columbia or the nearby territory of the CNMI,” her lawsuit states.
The lawsuit further notes that Katrina Schaller received the benefits when she lived with her mother in Pennsylvania, “But when she moved to Guam to be with family upon her mother’s death, Katrina’s SSI benefits were cut off.” The lawsuit also states that Leslie Schaller also wants to travel to Guam to see her sisters, “but she cannot do so for more than 30 days for fear of losing access to the SSI benefits necessary for her support.”
The lawsuit asks the court to find that provisions of the SSI law discriminate based on status as a Guam resident and are unconstitutional, and to prevent the Social Security Administration from enforcing those provisions.
By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®