We Want to Hear from You About SSI Discrimination in the USVI

The front of the U.S. Supreme Court building, with the words “Equal Justice Under Law.” (Shutterstock image)

Over the next several weeks the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether denying Supplemental Security Income benefits to residents of U.S. territories is unconstitutional, and Congress will decide whether to include the extension of SSI benefits to residents of U.S. territories in the upcoming budget reconciliation bill.

Neil Weare, founder of Equally American, a non-partisan civil rights organization. (Photo from equalrightsnow.org)

As decision-makers in Washington take up these issues, the V.I. Source is collaborating with the nonprofit Equally American to reach out to the U.S. Virgin Islands community to help identify people whose lives have been impacted by this ongoing discrimination by the federal government.

“Something that’s been missing at a national level are the voices of already vulnerable citizens in the territories whose lives have been made that much more difficult by the denial of federal benefits like SSI,” said Neil Weare, president of Equally American, which advocates for equality for the 3.5 million citizens living in U.S. territories.

“We’re working with partners in each territory to try and identify folks who but for this federal discrimination would be eligible to receive up to $794 a month to help cover some of their basic living expenses like rent and food. In other parts of the country, this kind of support is taken as a given,” said Weare.

As part of these efforts, Equally American has launched a new online survey available on its website.

In particular, Equally American and the Source would like to connect with residents of the territory who would be eligible to receive SSI benefits if they instead lived in the states; and former territorial residents living stateside who currently receive SSI and would like to move back home but haven’t because they would lose their benefits.

“This survey is to help us identify folks whose lives have been negatively impacted by the denial of SSI benefits in U.S. territories. We’d like to help tell these stories to the decision-makers in Washington who have the power to bring an end to this discrimination and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable territorial residents,” Weare added.

Many residents in U.S. territories are simply unaware that if they lived elsewhere they could qualify for SSI benefits. So it is not something many have thought about. It is estimated though that more than 300,000 residents of the territories would be eligible for SSI if Congress or the Supreme Court were to extend it. So SSI is something that could have a widespread benefit to individuals, families, and the community as a whole.

Among those who could be eligible for SSI if it were extended to the territories include:

  • Anyone over 65 and who has little in the way of income, savings, or other assets.
  • A child with a medical condition that causes severe functional limitations and whose family has little income, savings or assets.
  • A child with severe autism whose family has little income, savings, or other assets.
  • An adult with an intellectual disability that severely limits their ability to care for themselves.
  • An adult who developed a chronic disease that severely limits their ability to work and who has little income, savings or assets.

“If you are someone who might be eligible for SSI benefits, or if you have a family member or close friend you think might be eligible, we’d like to connect with you. We need decision-makers in D.C. to be able to understand the real-world impact this has on people’s lives. For too long these people’s voices have been ignored,” Weare stated.

For more information, people can find Equally American’s survey online, or people can contact Equally American’s President Neil Weare directly at nweare@equallyamerican.org or 202-304-1202.

The Source wants to hear from you about how the denial of SSI benefits affects your quality of life. Please contact visource@gmail.com.