• The Star Staff

PDP lawmakers ask incoming Biden-Harris administration to secure SSI access for all PR residents

By The Star Staff

Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez and PDP representatives-elect Ángel “Tito” Fourquet Cordero and Kebin Maldonado Martiz wrote to U.S. president-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday asking him to order the U.S. Justice Department to withdraw a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court that seeks to exclude Puerto Rico from the Supplemental Security Income program.

“Today we ask President Biden to order the federal Department of Justice to withdraw the writ of certiorari before the Supreme Court of the United States, which seeks to revoke the decision that declared unconstitutional the exclusion of residents of the island from the supplemental security income program,” Hernández Montañez said. “We want Biden to declare a clear mandate that the island’s residents have to be included in the federal program.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to evaluate on Dec. 11 whether or not to review a U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that declared that Congress’ decision not to extend the SSI program to Puerto Rico violates the Equal Protection Clause. The case is United States v. Vaello-Madero.

Hernández Montañez said he was confident that “Biden will honor his commitment to the Puerto Rican people and that his administration will take the correct steps to guarantee greater equity, respect and fair treatment by all government agencies toward our country and our people.”

Fourquet Cordero noted that in the Vaello-Madero case, the federal government sued for the return of $28,081 plus interest for not notifying the agency that he had moved to Puerto Rico from New York. SSI is available to residents of the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and the Northern Mariana Islands only.

There have been other rulings benefitting territories. In the case Pena Martinez et al. v. DHHS, U.S. District Court Judge William Young struck down the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services policy that denies Puerto Rico residents benefits under SSI, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy programs solely due to their residency in Puerto Rico.

Young’s decision came on the heels of the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in United States v. Vaello-Madero. In Guam, U.S. Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood issued a similar decision in Schaller v. U.S. Social Security Administration, which tackled the same program.

For his part, Maldonado Martiz said “the inclusion of Puerto Rico in this program would have a positive impact of $2.3 billion annually on the island and would benefit nearly 300,000 Puerto Ricans.”

“In the times we are going through, the fact that this aid is extended to more citizens in Puerto Rico will be an achievement that will bring peace of mind, hope and social justice to the people,” he said.

“We firmly believe that Biden has the vision, fortitude and morals to correct the mistakes of the past, so our request is that the right thing be done for the welfare of the most vulnerable in the country …” insisted Maldonado, the representative-elect for District 20.

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