SCOTUS denies SSI to Puerto Rico
Despite being American citizens, Puerto Rico residents are excluded from Supplemental Security Income benefits, which leaves them uncovered in public healthcare. This became an issue for Jose Luis Vaello-Madero, a US citizen who moved from New York to Puerto Rico. He started his treatment in New York but upon moving to Puerto Rico to be closer to his family, he was notified that the SSI benefits would now stop.
According to the 14th Amendment, no state can deny anyone “the equal protection of the law.” Historically, throughout Supreme Court precedents, the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause has stated that the government cannot enact prejudiced treatment towards anyone without good cause. This means that the government shouldn’t be able to discriminate against Vaello-Madero in this case.
This argument led the lower courts of Puerto Rico to side with Vaello-Madero stating that Congress’ “differential treatment of Puerto Rico residents under the SSI program is so illogical that it cannot survive . . .”
However, the government chose to appeal this case to the Supreme Court in September of 2020, coinciding with the 2020 presidential election. Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden criticized then-President Trump for defending the discriminatory policy. However, President Biden did not change any of the government’s standings. While he stated that he disagrees with the SSI exclusion for Puerto Ricans, he sided with the Justice Department on the matter.
In response to these updates, Congresswoman Jennifer González-Colón made a statement citing that the US Supreme Court “confirmed that the Territorial Clause allows Congress to exclude Puerto Rico from an important social program that combats poverty like the SSI,” mentioning that “SSI is one of the most important and effective federal programs for lifting the extremely poor out of that condition.” Although she has worked to promote the extension of SSI to Puerto Rico through Congress by passing HR 3226, HR 947, and HR 537, there has been little progress made on extending SSI rights for Puerto Ricans.