US lawmakers asked to back Social Security Income for territories
The nonprofit group Equally American is seeking the U.S. lawmakers support for calls to include U.S. territories in the Social Security Income program, which available to 50 states and the Northern Mariana Islands.
“The Supplemental Security Income program is a crucial lifeline for disabled, blind, and low-income adults and children throughout the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands,” said Neil Weare, president of Equally American, a nonpartisan public interest organization that works to advance equality and voting rights in U.S. territories.
Equally American wrote to Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Massachusetts) and Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) of the House Committee on Ways and Means on behalf of Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.
"Otherwise eligible Americans living in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa are arbitrarily excluded from accessing SSI benefits. That is not just unfair and discriminatory, it is unconstitutional,” Weare added.
Last year, a federal judge ruled that the SSI program applies to Guam. District Court Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood struck down as "unconstitutional" a federal statute that discriminates against the territory.
"The court finds 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 Organic Act’s guarantees of equal protection," the court said , ruling in favor of Katrina Schaller, an elderly woman with disabilities.
“As the First Circuit recently held, there is no rational basis for categorically excluding otherwise eligible Americans from the SSI program simply because they live in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, or American Samoa,” Weare continued. “But Congress should not wait for the Supreme Court to affirm the First Circuit’s opinion,” Weare added.
“Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón (R-Puerto Rico) has proposed a bill to include Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa in the SSI program,” Weare noted. “Equally American applauds her bi-partisan leadership alongside her colleagues from each of the territories and urges Congress to enact this crucial legislation as soon as possible. Lives literally depend on it."