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Court Rules Puerto Ricans Entitled To SSI Benefits

A Federal appellate court ruled on Friday that Puerto Ricans are eligible for Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits under the U.S. Constitution.

Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Judge Juan R. Torruella concluded that the exclusion of otherwise eligible Puerto Rico residents from the federal SSI program “is not rationally related to a legitimate government interest” and violates the Equal Protection guarantees of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.

The decision, U.S. v. Vaello-Madero, could ultimately enable hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rico residents to receive SSI benefits, which are currently available to low income individuals who are older than sixty-five, blind or disabled and live in the fifty states, the District of Columbia or the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Jose Vaello-Madero moved from Puerto Rico to New York in 1985 and began receiving SSI disability benefits in 2012.  He returned to Puerto Rico in July of 2013 and continued to receive his disability benefit payments in his New York bank account until August 2016.  He has argued that he was unaware that his move to Puerto Rico would end his eligibility for SSI.

In August 2017, the U.S. government sued him to collect $28,081 in payments he had received after leaving New York. In February 2019, U.S. District Judge Gustavo Gelpí rejected the U.S. government’s claim, stating that to “disparately classify United States Citizens residing in Puerto Rico” would run “counter to the very essence and fundamental guarantees of the Constitution itself.”

Citing previous Supreme Court decisions that permit Congress to treat U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico differently from other U.S. citizens in federal public assistance programs as long as Congress has a “rational basis” for its actions, Judge Gelpi noted that “[c]lassifying a group of the Nation’s poor and medically neediest United States citizens as ‘second tier’ simply because they reside in Puerto Rico is by no means rational.”

On appeal, Judge Torruella agreed.  He considered and then rejected the federal government’s arguments as to why excluding residents of the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico from SSI could be rational: (1) the tax status of Puerto Rico, and (2) the cost of extending the benefit to the territory.

With respect to taxes, the Court noted that Puerto Rico pays substantial sums into the federal treasury through the IRS and has contributed more than some states over the years despite not paying federal income tax on Puerto Rico sourced income.

The Federal Income Taxes That Puerto Ricans Pay

The Court also quoted Vaello-Madero’s argument that previous tax liability has no bearing on SSI eligibility, noting that “any individual with earnings low enough to qualify for SSI will not be paying federal income tax regardless of where they reside.”

On this topic, the Court concluded that “the idea that one needs to earn their eligibility [for a program that benefits the needy]  by the payment of federal income tax is antithetical to the entire premise of the program.”

The Court also rejected the argument that extending SSI benefits to Puerto Rico would be too costly to the federal program, concluding that the “Fifth Amendment does not permit the arbitrary treatment of individuals who would otherwise qualify for SSI but for their residency in Puerto Rico.”

The U.S. government is expected to appeal the ruling.

Read the First Circuit Opinion

1 thought on “Court Rules Puerto Ricans Entitled To SSI Benefits”

  1. *Federal 1st Circuit Court advances FAIR Treatment-EQUALITY for Puerto Ricans*
    In a historic decision, the First Circuit of Appeals in Boston (Chief Judge Horward; Circuit Judges-Torruella and Thompson)–backed the decision by Federal Judge Gelpi (Chief Judge Federal Court, US Territory of Puerto Rico); *declared Un-Constitutional—to exclude from SSI (Supplemental Security Income), a person that moved from a State to Puerto Rico… The decision was based on “Equal protection of Law”, and the absence of a “Rational Basis”…
    *CASE: First Circuit No. 19-1390- USA, Plaintiff v. JOSÉ LUIS VAELLO-MADERO (10 April 2020)

    The unanimous and momentous decision moves forward the patriotic Quest for EQUALITY of fellow US Citizens-American Veterans in the US Territory of Puerto Rico (with more US Citizens than 22 States; part of “WE THE PEOPLE”)—that face Federal discrimination, since 1898!

    Now the Federal Government must decide if to Appeal to the US Supreme Court. The Puerto Rico Territorial Government (Justice Department) and other Patriots must use this Case to fight a just Legal Battle for Equality; get Parity in Federal Laws, Programs and Funds as we educate, and demand the Federal Government to do Right, under just Laws!

    FACTS are: for over 122+ years–fellow, but, 2d Class US Citizens-American Veterans (part of “We the People”), in the US Territory of PR — have made many valuable contributions to our USA; but are not FAIRLY treated, like other US Citizens in the States!

    Today–Puerto Ricans still face FEDERAL unfair Treatment; Institutional Discrimination; Undemocratic Control, have–NO Federal “Consent of the Governed”; NO full Rights; NO full Blood earned benefits; NO Parity in Federal Laws-Programs-Funds; NO permanent statutory US Citizenship (even in a State) that other US Citizens have!

    The US Congress controls the US Territory of Puerto Rico local Laws; Borders; Currency; Economy… per the old Territorial Clause (1787), and the US Supreme Court Insular Cases (1901-1925+)—which are based on discrimination and racism (Puerto Ricans were called “Alien”, Mestizos”)…. Plus, the Court misinterpreted the US Constitution with terms not found in the Constitution, like- “PR is an unincorporated US Territory; more foreign than domestic; belongs to, but is not part of the US”!
    *DECIDED: in Downes vs Bidwell (1901); Balzac vs Puerto Rico (1922)— “The US Congress can differentiate (discriminate) in applying the US Constitution to unincorporated Territories… that have US Citizens-American Veterans” because the Territory is part foreign…! Other Supreme Court decisions say it must be on a “Rational Basis” (1980-Harris v Rosario)…

    How can millions of US Citizens-American Veterans be classified “Foreign” under our noble US Flag-that represents all US States, Territories, and “WE THE PEOPLE”? These terms were not applied to other US Territories before Puerto Rico! This denial of Equal Treatment under just Laws, now needs to be revoked by the current US Supreme Court like Plessy vs Ferguson (Blacks are Equal, but, separate) was revoked.

    US Puerto Ricans have sacrificed; shed sweat, blood, and tears for our US Flag; cherish their US Citizenship; have integrated, and CONTRIBUTE in all Fields of Endeavor to our US…
    • Loyal PR-US Veterans bravely serve; fight, since 1898 (WW-I, WW-II, Korea, Vietnam…) until Today for the Good of All: Family, Community, USA, and Humanity!
    • PRs have earned many Battle Blood Awards, includes-the US 65th Infantry-was awarded the “Congressional Gold Medal” highest honor our US Congress, with US President, can bestow…
    • US Puerto Rican-Hispanic Ancestors and Natives came from PR (Boriken) in 1513 to our now USA (Florida)-107 years before the Pilgrims; brought Christianity, advanced civilization of the times; other good things; fought in the US War of Independence…; helped develop our USA to be the best in Human History!

    The Federal Government must be the Servant of all the People; not the Master of Some! We must Guard against a “Tyranny of a Majority”!

    The US President, and US Congress must not put “Band Aids” on the Crisis, but, take non-partisan action to resolve this Federal un-democratic WRONG; admit Puerto Rico to the UNION OF STATES or as an ALTERNATIVE conduct a Referendum between NON-TERRITORIAL defined OPTIONS which only are:
    • STATEHOOD–MEANS: Admittance to the US Republic (a Government by the People) “Union of States” for the Good of all, WITH– STATE Identity (Boricua); STATE Constitution; STATE Flag; STATE Sovereignty. Plus, permanent US Citizenship under the protection of the US Constitution-Flag; Equal Individual Rights; Vote for US President; just representation in the US Congress; full earned benefits; Parity in Federal Laws; Federal consent of the Governed…
    • INDEPENDENCE—MEANS: Puerto Rican Citizenship; PR National Sovereignty. Loss of US Constitution protection; loss of US Citizenship (statutory)- Rights and Benefits…
    o INDEPENDENCE (With PACT-Free Association…)–MEANS: Puerto Rican Citizenship-Sovereignty… Loss of US Constitution; loss of US Citizenship (statutory)-Rights and Benefits… But, with a PACT to be negotiated; terminated by any Party.

    There is a big Exodus to the States that Tax local resources because of the un-resolved Economic-Jobs; Fiscal; Infrastructure; Social and Status Crisis where each part affects the other; the Status affects everything.

    UNITED with Truth, Reason, Courage, and CIVIC ACTION for the Good of ALL: Family, Community, USA, and Humanity!
    (DENNIS O. FREYTES, US Army Ret; Community Servant Leader
    Florida Veterans Hall of Fame—1st Hispanic-Puerto Rican
    By FL Governor, now, US Senator Rick Scott; FL House; FL Senate)

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