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Supplemental Security Income inclusion ruling has bearing for Guamanians

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He said it's "unconstitutional" to deny a U.S. citizen the right to Supplemental Security Income disability benefits just because they live in Puerto Rico. That's the opinion coming from Puerto Rico's U.S. District Judge Gustavo Gelpi. Though thousands of miles away, his ruling sets precedence here on Guam, where many U.S. Citizens are also excluded from SSI.

If you're a United States citizens living in the 50 States, Washington, D.C., or the CNMI, you're entitled to Supplemental Security Income or SSI disability benefits. However, the same law does not apply if you move to the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico or Guam. A recent ruling from the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico says the law violates the 5th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.

The case involves Jose Luis Vaello-Madero who lived in New York from 1985 until 2013 when he moved to Puerto Rico. He continued to receive SSI payments until 2016.  A year later, a Civil Action case was filed by Social Security asking him to pay back the $28,000 in SSI.

Gelpi, who made a visit to Guam last year, writes that the territorial clause, that allows the feds to enact rules and regulations in the territories, is "not a blank check" for the feds to "dictate when and where the Constitution applies to its citizens".

Though Guam and Puerto Rico lie in separate jurisdictions, Attorney Jacob says the ruling can help his client Katrina Schaller.

"The United States and Social Security Administration are imposing incredibly hard and discriminatory rules on my Client Katrina and her sister, there's no reason why they should be denied these important benefits, period," she said. "The Puerto Rico decision today really supports that 107 so it is very helpful to the people of Guam."

Katrina is a Guam resident who suffers from myotonic dystrophy.

As reported, she's filed a suit against the U.S. Social Security who denies her the same SSI benefits as her twin Leslie.

Though the fight is far from over, Jacob is confident that the case in Puerto Rico sets an example.

"For Katrina and Leslie it's very good news in that there is a United States judge albeit in Puerto Rico that believes in what they're doing," he explained.

In the meantime, Guam Congressman Michael San Nicolas is pushing forward his Bill to get U.S. citizens living in the territory equal access to the Supplemental Security Program.

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