President Biden issued a statement today emphasizing his support for Puerto Rico parity within the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program despite the fact that the Department of Justice will file a brief today in support of the federal law that excludes Puerto Rico from SSI.
“I believe that Puerto Rico residents should be able to receive SSI benefits, just like their fellow Americans in all 50 states and Washington D.C.,” the president said. “I call on Congress to amend the Social Security Act to extend these benefits to residents of Puerto Rico.”
The SSI case
Residents of Puerto Rico are not currently eligible for Supplemental Social Security, a program for elderly, needy individuals with disabilities. This law went to court in the case of United States v. Vaello-Madero, in which Jose Luis Vaello-Madero qualified for SSI payments while living in New York and then continued to receive the benefits in his New York-based bank account after moving to Puerto Rico. When the Social Security administration realized that Mr. Vaello-Madero had moved, they demanded that he pay back what he had received while living in Puerto Rico.
Vaello-Madero challenged this demand and won in court. The United States filed an appeal, and the case is now pending before the Supreme Court.
Organizations like the American Association of Retired Persons requested that the appeal be withdrawn, as did Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR), the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, and other members of Congress led by Nydia Velazquez (D-NY).
In the White House statement, President Biden explained, “This provision is inconsistent with my Administration’s policies and values. However, the Department of Justice has a longstanding practice of defending the constitutionality of federal statutes, regardless of policy preferences. This practice is critical to the Department’s mission of preserving the rule of law.”
The case will therefore go forward and be decided by the Supreme Court.
Other federal programs
While Biden takes a hands-off approach to the judicial branch’s decision on this matter, he did call for Congress to make the needed changes to make sure Puerto Rico is eligible for SSI.
He further stated a policy preference for the equal treatment of Puerto Rico under other federal programs.
“I also support eliminating Medicaid funding caps for Puerto Rico and moving toward parity for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to align with States,” he said in his statement. “These steps, along with the American Rescue Plan, which included an enhanced Child Tax Credit for families and a permanent federal match expansion to the Earned Income Tax Credit program, will provide families in Puerto Rico an equal chance to get ahead. As I’ve said before, there can be no second-class citizens in the United States of America.”