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Woman suing Social Security over restrictions on federal assistance

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She can't receive federal assistance because of where she lives. This is the case for Katrina Schaller, a Guam resident suffering from mytonic dystrophy. Schaller - through her legal guardians - is taking the feds to court, suing the Social Security Administration. KUAM News met with the family and their attorney today.

They're twin sisters. Both live with a debilitating hereditary condition called mytonic dystrophy. Leslie Schaller lives in Pennsylvania. She receives close to $800 a month in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) which allows her to lead an independent life. Katrina Schaller lives in Guam, and as a result, cannot receive SSI. Without steady income, she can't lead an independent life.

Katrina's legal guardians have filed suit in the District Court of Guam naming the U.S. Social Security Administration and its Deputy Commissioner.

Attorney Rodney Jacob represents Katrina's family and said, "It is tough. Litigating or suing the United States over something that is just not fair is always difficult, but we're lucky because we're not alone in the people that care about this problem. Several people on Guam understand and care about this problem deeply. We were assisted by a very, very prominent law firm in Washington, DC who has come in and is helping us do this case on a pro bono basis.

"Katrina's case will be here in Guam and there was a simultaneous case filed in the federal court in Pennsylvania for Leslie. So, again, we hope the U.S. will look at this lawsuit and correct it for people that are living here in Guam."

Kimberly Fegurgur is the legal guardian for Katrina and their older sister. She was in tears as she explained the twins cannot reunite because of Guam's exclusion in the federal program that's intended to allow those with disabilities to live independently. If Leslie moved to Guam, she'd lose her benefits.

Katrina, meanwhile, can't travel.

"The disease has taken such a toll on them," Kimberly said. Winning the case would mean the family could reunite. "It would mean that Leslie could come here. I think she would decide to come here, which would reunite us, especially the two of them together, and, you know, I feel bad, because Katrina has all the love and support of my husband's family here and Leslie is there by herself. So bringing Leslie here, she would then feel the same love that Guam provides."

It'd also be a bigger win for others here in Guam with disabilities who want to live independent lives. "The interesting thing: once I told my sisters that this would potentially benefit many people in Guam, anybody that's dealing with adult disability, that's when they really opened up their heart and said yes," she said.

More than 8 million U.S. residents receive SSI annually. That's in addition to over 1,000 CNMI residents who also benefit from the federal aid.

Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, however, are expressly excluded.

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