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Puerto Rican flag. Photo: Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg
Puerto Rican flag. Photo: Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg

Reps. Nydia Velazquez, AOC, Darren Soto and others ask Biden to expand SSI for Puerto Ricans living on the island

The request came via a letter that pointed to the court case United States v. Vaello Madero, which could be seen by the Supreme Court.

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On Tuesday, Feb. 15, five Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to President Joe Biden, urging him to allow residents of Puerto Rico to have access to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program. 

The legislators who penned the letter were Reps. Nydia Velázquez, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Darren Soto, Ritchie Torres and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva.

 "It is time for Puerto Ricans who qualify for SSI benefits to receive their benefits as soon as possible," they wrote in the letter. 

They pointed out to Biden thatfor the fifth time, the U.S. Supreme Court has the Vaello Madero case on its agenda.. 

The nine justices of the highest judicial forum are scheduled to meet and discuss the cases on its current agenda on Thursday, Feb. 18. 

"Time is of the essence and we owe it to Puerto Ricans on the island so that they can receive the same SSI benefits they would otherwise receive on the mainland," the Congress members wrote. 

In United States v. Vaello Madero, Congress examined whether it was in violation of the equal protection component of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment by establishing the SSI program for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, but not extending it to Puerto Rico.

The case was based on the situation of Puerto Rican José Luis Vaello Madero, who had begun receiving SSI in the United States before moving to Puerto Rico. 

In an April 2020 decision, a First Circuit judge ruled that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to exclude island residents from SSI and to recoup from Vaello Madero the nearly $28,000 he received from SSI when he was already domiciled on the island.

Although the court ruled in favor of Valleo Madero, the SSI program is still not available for Puerto Rican residents. 

The SSI program was first created by Congress in 1972 to replace the Aid to the Aged, Blind or Disabled (AABD) program. In Puerto Rico, the local Department of the Family continues to administer the AABD program, which offers significantly less benefits than the SSI program.

Based on data from the fiscal year 2011, the Government Accountability Office stated that if Puerto Rico did participate in the SSI program, beneficiaries would be eligible to receive between $1.5 billion and $1.8 billion each year. 

Twenty major Puerto Rican and American religious leaders also joined in on the push for Biden to address the multiple crises that the island is currently facing, including the exclusion from receiving SSI benefits. 

The heads of U.S and Puerto Rican churches signed the letter representing Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, and Evangelical churches. The 20 signers included leaders of the National and Puerto Rico Council of Churches, the General Bible Society and Jubilee USA Network. 

“Please immediately instruct the Department of Justice to withdraw the suit, filed by the previous administration, that blocks $2.3 billion in annual Supplemental Security Income payments. About 300,000 poor and vulnerable U.S citizens with disabilities are critically impacted,” the leaders wrote. 

Biden has criticized the way that former President Trump handled the plights faced by Puerto Rico, and pledged to distribute federal aid and end discriminatory practices. Legislators and religious leaders are now making sure that Biden follows through on these promises. 

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