Two sisters in rural Kentucky who lived for more than 20 years without Social Security numbers will get the government recognition after settling a lawsuit.
Under Tuesday's agreement, the State Department will issue passport cards to Raechel and Stephanie Schultz, who live in the tiny enclave of Lily. Those cards can be taken to the Social Security Administration, which has agreed to accept the cards as proof of U.S. citizenship and issue Social Security numbers to the women.
Upon receiving the passport cards, the sisters will have five days to apply for Social Security numbers, under the terms of the settlement.
The sisters sued in federal court in July, after being turned away on multiple attempts at getting a card because of a lack of documentation proving their citizenship.
The sisters have no phone. Calls to their attorney, Douglas Benge of London, Ky., were not immediately returned Wednesday morning. The federal government did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
Raechel, 29, was born at a home in Madison County, Ky., near where the family lives now; Stephanie, 23, was delivered in the back of a Dodge van in southern Alabama. The births were recorded in a family Bible but were otherwise not documented.
Their mercurial parents settled into a hardscrabble existence about 14 years ago along the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, where the family car broke down. The girls were home schooled by their college-educated parents.
The earliest years for the Schultz sisters were nomadic. The family traveled through 42 states, never staying too long in one place. Their father found occasional work in construction or at restaurants and the children picked up cans to make a few bucks. They stayed in motels or camped and the sisters' grandparents sent money to help.
On its website, the Social Security Administration lists documents that may be used to prove identity, age and citizenship. The accepted records include a birth certificate, driver's license, state-issued identification card or U.S. passport, and it's not entirely clear why they have been denied.
Raechel and Stephanie Schultz started to push for Social Security cards about five years ago so they could get jobs beyond bartending and making jewelry, repainting old furniture and bartending. Raechel even posed as her mother to get a job at a restaurant.
Everyone else in the family has a Social Security number, including an older sister now living in New Orleans who got her Social Security card as a teenager on her second try. She had a birth certificate and a baptismal record.
After being rejected by the Social Security Administration for lack of proper documentation, the sisters sued in state court in 2009, seeking birth certificates. Circuit Judge John Knox Mills in 2010 ordered DNA tests to prove the women were born to their parents, then ordered the records issued.
"The court has no reason to not believe the testimony and finds no reason to suggest the plaintiffs are seeking this relief for an illegal or immoral purpose," Circuit Judge John Knox Mills wrote in his 2010 order.
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