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Decide sides with Guam resident in Social Safety case

HONOLULU — There’s no rational foundation for denying a disabled lady supplemental Social Safety advantages as a result of she lives on Guam, whereas permitting her twin sister in Pennsylvania who has the identical genetic illness to obtain the funds, a U.S. decide in Guam dominated.

Katrina Schaller and her twin sister Leslie have been born in 1970 and grew up in Pennsylvania. The sisters undergo from myotonic dystrophy, a debilitating, degenerative genetic dysfunction affecting muscle perform and psychological processing.

After their mom died in 2007, Katrina went to stay with a sister on Guam and stopped receiving the federal funds, whereas her twin in Pennsylvania continued receiving the cash.

U.S. residents residing in any territory besides the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands aren’t entitled to Supplemental Safety Earnings, often called SSI, meant to assist those that are blind or disabled. The decide’s ruling issued final week mentioned that is “illogical and irrational.”

“There is no relevant difference between Guam and the CNMI that would rationally justify the denial of SSI benefits to otherwise eligible U.S. citizens residing in Guam, benefits enjoyed by their Chamorro neighbours just 60 miles north of and a 40-minute flight from Guam,” U.S. District Courtroom of Guam Chief Decide Frances M. Tydingco-Gatewood mentioned in her ruling, referring to the indigenous folks of the Mariana Islands, which embrace Guam. “Accordingly, the court holds that the equal protection guarantees of the Fifth Amendment forbid the arbitrary denial of SSI benefits to residents of Guam.”

Katrina’s attorneys are going to discover a manner for her to use for the profit, however anticipate the U.S. authorities will attraction the ruling, mentioned Michael F. Williams, considered one of her attorneys. Authorities attorneys didn’t instantly reply to requests for remark Monday.

The ruling received’t routinely apply to others in comparable conditions as a result of the decide solely has jurisdiction over Guam, Williams mentioned. “By its reasoning, it should apply, especially in circumstances where there are United States citizens who reside in the territories who are being denied SSI because they’re territorial residents,” he mentioned.

In 2013, the Guam Legislature estimated that 24,000 residents could possibly be eligible for SSI advantages if this system have been prolonged to incorporate Guam residents, in response to the ruling.

“It’s a strong decision from the judge in what’s essentially a civil rights case. This is about access to benefits for the poorest and most needy people,” Williams mentioned. “And there’s no reason that they should be discriminated against.”

Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, The Related Press

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