Congressional Democrats on Thursday censured the decision of the United States Supreme Court which determined that it is constitutional to deny the access of Puerto Rico and other territories to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.
“This damaging ruling prevents seniors and disabled people from receiving the critical support they need for their basic needs, like food and housing, and perpetuates the harmful idea that Puerto Ricans and residents of other United States territories are second class americanssaid House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (Massachusetts), with primary jurisdiction over SSI.
For his part, the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Raúl Grijalva, said that it is “unfair to the core” to deny SSI benefits – intended for poor and disabled older adults – to hundreds of thousands of US citizens living in Puerto Rico. and the other US territories.
“(Thursday’s) decision upholds more than a century of discriminatory policies that treat our fellow citizens living in US territories as second-class citizens. I am equally disappointed in the decision of the (Joe) Biden administration to defend this discrimination in court. House Democrats have taken a stand against these inequities and passed legislation to extend SSI benefits and expand other federal programs to the territories; I urge my colleagues in the Senate to do the same,” said Grijalva, whose commission is in charge of issues in Puerto Rico and the other territories.
In overturning the First Circuit of Federal Appeals in the Vaello Madero case, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled Tuesday (8-1) that it is constitutional and a rational action of the power of Congress to exclude residents of Puerto Rico from the program of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI), because they do not pay the same contributions as those who live in the states.
For the majority of the Supreme Court, if Puerto Rico had the same access as the states to social welfare programs, such as SSI, “the residents of the states could insist that the federal government impose the same contributions on the residents of Puerto Rico and other territories” and that “would impose a significant financial burden” on the island.
Puerto Rican Democratic congressmen Nydia Velázquez and Ritchie Torres, elected from New York districts, also condemned the decision.
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a demoralizing setback for the people of Puerto Rico who deserve the same access to federal benefits as those living in the continental United States. We cannot forget that Puerto Rico was colonized by the United States more than a century ago, and today’s decision is one more in a long and brutal effort by the United States to treat Puerto Ricans as second-class citizens.”Velazquez said
Like Grijalva, Velázquez criticized the fact that the Biden administration decided to continue challenging the Vaello Madero case, after the First Circuit of Federal Appeals, overturned in this controversy, determined that it violates the constitutional clause of equal protection of the laws to exclude Puerto Rico from the SSI.
“I am deeply disappointed that the Biden administration chose to follow in its predecessor’s footsteps by supporting a brief in this case to uphold the constitutionality of withholding SSI benefits from those on the island. This was a serious failure to do the right thing by the people of Puerto Rico,” Velázquez said.
“This ruling should cause Congress to finally pass legislation that enshrines the rights of Puerto Ricans and other residents of the territories to parity in receiving comprehensive federal benefits. Whether through budget reconciliation or through the approval of my bill with Senator Bernie Sanders, this cannot wait,” added the Democratic Puerto Rican legislator.
Torres, for his part, affirmed that the US Supreme Court has confirmed “once again the colonial status and second-class treatment of Puerto Rico.”
“Only with congressional action and statehood can full legal equality be provided to the people of Puerto Rico. Congress must act now!” said Torres, who advocates that the island become another state of the United States.
For its part, Latino Justice denounced that the decision represents a new validation of a public policy initiated by the Insular Cases of the beginning of the last century, which validated the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.
“The decision also prolongs the racist exclusion of Puerto Ricans and residents of other United States territories from vital federal benefits afforded to citizens living in all 50 states, backed by precedent that aggravates historical errors and practices that should be have been rejected a long time ago,” the civil rights organization added.