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Supreme Court docket resolution hurts Puerto Ricans who want federal advantages

The U.S. Supreme Court docket in Washington, D.C.

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Photos

Efforts to broaden a federal program for disabled, aged and blind Individuals suffered a setback on Thursday when the Supreme Court ruled that Puerto Rico residents ought to be excluded from receiving these advantages.

This system, referred to as Supplemental Safety Earnings, or SSI, at the moment supplies month-to-month checks to about 7.7 million Individuals who qualify. However as a result of it’s aimed toward individuals with low revenue and few sources, this system comes with strict revenue and asset restrict guidelines.

Some Congressional lawmakers have proposed updating this system, which has rules that haven’t been up to date because it was created in 1972.

Final 12 months, the Home of Representatives included one key change — increasing SSI to residents of U.S. territories — when it handed Democrats’ Construct Again Higher bundle.

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That change would come with residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa. Residents of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are already eligible to obtain SSI advantages.

Nonetheless, that laws has since stalled on Capitol Hill.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court docket upheld the federal legislation that denies Puerto Rico residents entry to SSI advantages. A decrease appeals courtroom had beforehand dominated that excluding Puerto Rico residents from SSI was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court docket’s ruling is an enormous blow to the estimated 436,000 individuals in Puerto Rico who could probably qualify for SSI, in keeping with Kathleen Romig, director of Social Safety and incapacity coverage on the Heart on Finances and Coverage Priorities.

“It will make an enormous distinction to those individuals, as a result of it is people who find themselves by definition poor and have very low financial savings,” Romig stated. “Even having just a few hundred {dollars} extra a month may make an necessary distinction.”

Puerto Rico residents could entry a program referred to as Support to the Aged, Blind, and Disabled, or AABD, although it’s a extra restricted than SSI, Romig famous.

As a result of Puerto Rico residents pay payroll taxes that assist fund Social Safety and Medicare, those that have sufficient earnings to qualify may declare Social Safety incapacity advantages.

Nonetheless, SSI is funded by means of normal income, which implies Puerto Rico residents are usually not essentially instantly contributing to this system, a problem that got here up through the Supreme Court docket’s debate.

That program was designed exactly for individuals who can not pay taxes, as a result of they can not work, by definition.

Sergio M. Marxuach

coverage director on the Heart for a New Financial system

Justice Brett Kavanaugh famous in his resolution that as a result of Puerto Rico residents are usually not held to the identical necessities as U.S. mainland residents with regard to federal, property or excise taxes, they are often handled in a different way.

“The issue with that evaluation on this context is that program was designed exactly for individuals who can not pay taxes, as a result of they can not work, by definition,” stated Sergio M. Marxuach, coverage director on the Heart for a New Financial system, a non-profit, non-partisan suppose tank in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

This system was designed for individuals who qualify for it, whether or not they dwell in Montana, New York or San Juan, Marxuach stated, as a result of reality they’re disabled, aged or blind.

“If you happen to go to the Congressional intent, it was exactly to assist that group of individuals throughout the nation,” Marxuach stated. “Utilizing that as a rationale foundation for the completely different therapy doesn’t make any sense.”

With out entry to SSI, some Puerto Rico residents could fall by means of the cracks relating to federal authorities advantages.

“There’s this hole for individuals who haven’t got a qualifying work historical past for Social Safety, who qualify just for low advantages and would have supplemental advantages by means of SSI,” Romig stated.

Furthermore, as a result of receiving SSI advantages typically robotically qualifies recipients for Medicaid, it may make it harder for Puerto Rico residents to entry well being protection, as properly, she stated.

“It is inequitable to have Americans, simply due to their deal with, lose entry to an necessary profit,” Romig stated of SSI.

There’s additionally a “racial and ethnic inequity that’s current if you exclude territories versus the mainland,” she stated.

Rebecca Vallas, a incapacity advocate and senior fellow at The Century Basis, a progressive suppose tank, additionally expressed disappointment with the choice.

“The Supreme Court docket’s resolution to proceed the nation’s lengthy, racist historical past of excluding Puerto Rico residents from the SSI program is as shameful as it’s disappointing,” Vallas stated in a press release.

“America shouldn’t be within the enterprise of discriminating in opposition to its personal residents — particularly relating to one thing as basic as eligibility for survival revenue packages like SSI,” she stated.

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