Puerto Rico Official Wants Supplemental Security Benefits for Thousands of Island Residents

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By Mivette Vega

January 25, 2021

The speaker of the island’s House of Representatives wants the US Department of Justice to address a court case that affects over 300,000 Puerto Ricans who do not receive the supplementary benefit.

Rafael “Tatito” Hernández, speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, wrote Attorney General Merrick Garland, requesting that the Biden-Harris administration push for allowing thousands of Puerto Ricans to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

According to Social Security data in Puerto Rico, there are 387,570 beneficiaries who do not receive SSI, which is an additional benefit, separate from Social Security, for low-income people who are age 65 or older, blind, or disabled.

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“Thousands of hard-working Puerto Ricans are spending their golden years in poverty after toiling arduously for decades in low-paying jobs,” Hernández’s letter reads.

A 2018 court case, United States vs Vaello-Madero, initiated by retiree José Luis Vaello, claims that he is not eligible for SSI.

Vaello lived in New York for 28 years, where he received SSI benefits. Upon moving to the island in 2013, he stopped receiving those benefits because Puerto Rico residents are ineligible to receive them.

In June 2020, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Boston, determined excluding Puerto Rico residents from SSI was unconstitutional because it violates Fifth Amendment equal-protection guarantees. 

“The residents of Puerto Rico not only make substantial contributions to the federal treasury but in fact have consistently made them in higher amounts than taxpayers in at least six states, as well as the territory of the Northern Mariana Islands,” the court said then.

According to El Nuevo Día, Donald Trump’s administration questioned the determination, claiming it could deny SSI benefits to territories such as Puerto Rico that did not “enter” the United States “voluntarily” through “negotiation.”

The case is now presumably on its way to the Supreme Court. Hernández hopes that since the Biden-Harris administration wants to do things differently, there could be a positive outcome.

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“The time has come for the Joseph Biden administration to demonstrate with actions its contrast in public policy towards Puerto Ricans,” Hernández told the newspaper. “This action does not require lobbying in the Chamber, it does not require lobbying in the Senate, it does not require any excessive movement of resources.”

Hernández further explained the letter is asking the Attorney General to notify the Supreme Court of a withdrawal from the controversy that would automatically apply the Boston determination.




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