Judge sides with Guam resident in Social Security case

HONOLULU (AP) - There is no sensible basis to deny a disabled woman additional social security benefits because she lives on Guam while her twin sister in Pennsylvania, who suffers from the same genetic disease, can receive payments, a U.S. judge ruled in Guam.
Katrina Schaller and her twin sister Leslie were born in 1970 and grew up in Pennsylvania. The sisters suffer from myotonic dystrophy, a debilitating, degenerative genetic disorder that affects muscle function and mental processing.
After her mother died in 2007, Katrina moved to a sister in Guam and stopped receiving federal payments, while her twin in Pennsylvania continued to receive the money.
US citizens living in an area other than the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are not eligible for an Additional Security Income (SSI) to help blind or disabled people. The judge's decision last week states that this is "illogical and irrational".
"There is no relevant difference between Guam and the CNMI, which denies SSI benefits to otherwise eligible US residents residing in Guam, the benefits of their Chamorro neighbors just 60 miles north of Guam, and a 40-minute flight from Guam would justify rationally. " Guam's US District Court judge, Frances M. Tydingco-Gatewood, said in her verdict referring to the Mariana Aboriginal people, including Guam. "Accordingly, the court considers that guarantees of equal protection for the fifth amendment prohibit the arbitrary denial of SSI benefits to Guam residents."
Katrina's lawyers will find a way to apply for the benefit, but they expect the US government to appeal the ruling, said Michael F. Williams, one of her lawyers. Prosecutors did not immediately respond to requests for comments on Monday.
The judgment will not automatically apply to others in similar situations because the judge is only responsible for guam, Williams said. "According to his reasoning, it should apply, especially in circumstances where US citizens live in areas that SSI is denied because they are residents," he said.
In 2013, Guam lawmakers estimated that 24,000 residents could be eligible for SSI benefits if the ruling extends the program to Guam residents.
"It is a strong judge's decision in an essentially civil law case. This is about access to benefits for the poorest and neediest," said Williams. "And there is no reason to discriminate against them."

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