Puerto Rico denied SSI benefits by SCOTUS

by Apr 28, 2022Puerto Rico0 comments

Puerto Ricans are US citizens, yet the taxes they pay differ from what mainland US citizens pay. Congress has justified denying them access to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits due to them not having to pay certain taxes like income, gift, estate, and excise taxes. In United States v. Vaello Madero, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Puerto Ricans receive different benefits than the 50 states like tax exemptions, it is fair to not include them in specific programs like SSI because of that reason. 

The extent of these SSI benefits in the US has been a debated issue for several years. United States v. Vaello Madero sparked discussion about how denying territories SSI benefits violated the equal protection principle included in the 5th amendment of the US Constitution. The final decision was an 8-1 ruling, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor in disagreement with the majority. She stated that it was the government’s responsibility to help those in need regardless of their place of residence within the US. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in support of the ruling, expressing that it is fair for territory citizens to receive fewer benefits if they are paying fewer taxes than mainland citizens. 

Currently, Puerto Ricans receive protection under the Aid to the Aged, Blind, and Disabled (AABD) program. The extent of this program depends on the amount of funding they receive per year. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has estimated that annual AABD spendings were less than 2% of the predicted SSI spending in Puerto Rico. On the other hand, SSI allows anyone who meets the necessary criteria to access the benefits. 

Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R) made a public statement in response to the ruling, stating that the decision discriminates against Americans living in Puerto Rico. She notes that SSI is an important initiative to combat poverty, and excluding Puerto Ricans from it keeps them in poverty. González is currently proposing bills to include Puerto Rico in SSI.