Jenniffer González-Colón and Ritchie Torres lead a bill to include Puerto Rico in the SSI program
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R) of Puerto Rico and Representative Ritchie Torres (D) of New York have filed HR 537, the Supplemental Security Income Equality Act, to extend the Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) program to residents of Puerto Rico. This bill is part of González-Colón’s efforts taken in different forums over the past years, advocating for the non-discrimination of American citizens living in Puerto Rico.
Delegates Stacey Plaskett (D) of the US Virgin Islands, Amata Radewagen (R) of American Samoa, and Representative Darren Soto (D) of Florida are also co-sponsoring the bill.
The SSI is the anti-poverty program in which the federal government financially assists people age 65 and older with income under the poverty level and minors with disabilities or conditions such as cancer, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, and multiple sclerosis, among other conditions that affect the family and the individual’s ability to generate enough income to live.
“Unlike traditional Social Security, SSI does not require a beneficiary to make payments to the program to be eligible for program benefits. An American living in the 50 states who receives the SSI is as likely to pay federal taxes as one living in Puerto Rico. There is no reasonable justification for this legal discrimination for the sole reason of living in a territory. The needs are the same, no matter where the person lives,” said González-Colón.
“Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens, feel the weight of discrimination every day when they try to access benefits but are automatically denied just because they live on the island instead of the mainland. The pandemic has devastated Puerto Rico’s economy and thousands are struggling to make ends meet. Ensuring equal access to anti-poverty benefits, like SSI, will help Puerto Ricans put food on their tables and ease the financial pressures families are facing. I’m proud to lead this bill with Congresswoman Gonzalez-Colon and to advocate for the hard-working Puerto Rican families that desperately need our help during these challenging times,” said Torres.
Beneficiaries of the SSI must apply for all other benefits for which they may be eligible before they can receive assistance under that program. The maximum amount of money that the SSI program provides is $794 per month for an individual or $1,191 per month for a couple. For 2019, the average SSI beneficiary received $ 551 per month ($655 for minors with disabilities).
According to a GAO report on Puerto Rico, if the SSI were applied to Puerto Rico, the territory would receive between $1.5 billion and $1.8 billion, impacting more than 354,000 Puerto Ricans.
The Social Security Administration estimated that if the SSI program applied to Puerto Rico, the federal government’s investment would be between $1.8 billion and $2.4 billion per year, for the next ten years. These numbers reflect the significant number of American citizens living on the islands with needs who could use the aid from the federal government but are denied because they lived in the territory.
Obtaining access to the SSI program for Americans living in Puerto Rico is part of Resident Commissioner González-Colón’s priorities which, along with EITC and CTC, are designed to fight poverty.
In the 115th Congress (July 25, 2017) the Resident Commissioner filed HR 3226 to extend SSI to Puerto Rico.
On December 20, 2018, the Resident Commissioner advocated for equal conditions and funds in federal programs for Americans living in Puerto Rico as amicus curiæ in the case USA v Vaello-Madero in federal court. González-Colón also appeared as amicus curiæ when the case was appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. After each judicial decision, the Resident Commissioner has issued opinions condemning the territorial status that makes it impossible for the most vulnerable residents of the territory to access the necessary aid and tools to better their standard of living.
On May 29, 2020, González-Colón asked the United States Attorney General to allow the judgment of the First Circuit Court of Appeals on the SSI benefit to become final by not requesting review before the United States Supreme Court. She also sent a letter to the President of the United States regarding this matter.