Judge: Excluding Guam residents from SSI benefits is unconstitutional

U.S. District Court (PNC News file photo)

District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood has issued a decision in favor of Guam resident Katrina Schaller who sued the U.S. Social Security Administration for denying her Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits which her identical twin sister Leslie Schaller is receiving in Pennsylvania.

The two sisters were born with the same degenerative disease but because Katrina is a Guam resident she was deemed not eligible for the same benefits.

In her decision, Tydingco-Gatewood said there is no rational basis for excluding Katrina Schaller from receiving SSI benefits based solely on her residency in Guam.

The basis of the Social Security Administration’s argument in not providing SSI to Guam residents was based on three arguments: Guam’s unique tax status, the cost of providing the benefits, and the projected impact to Guam’s economy.

But Tydingco-Gatewood ruled that the discriminatory provisions of the SSI statute and any related implementing regulations that discriminate on the basis of status as a resident of Guam violate the Constitution and the Organic Act’s guarantees of equal protection.

The decision enjoins the Social Security Administration from enforcing against Schaller such discriminatory provisions of the SSI statute and any relevant implementing regulations.

The decision, if upheld on appeal, would mean that Katrina Schaller would receive the same federal SSI benefits as her twin sister Leslie who receives $755 per month in SSI payments.

Leslie has filed a companion case in Pennsylvania, wanting to be able to visit her family on Guam for more than 30 days or move to Guam without loss of her benefits.