PR House speaker urges designated US attorney general to end island’s exclusion from SSI

Hernández Montañez calls for local socioeconomic sectors to follow suit

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

In an effort to advocate for the more than 300,000 people on the island who are ineligible for Social Security benefits, Puerto Rico House Speaker Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez requested in a letter to designated U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland that the U.S. Department of Justice withdraw the writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court case that intends to exclude islanders from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

Hernández said Sunday that the request came in part as the administration of President Joseph Biden promised during the presidential campaign to include Puerto Rico in the federal aid program that would provide up to $2.3 billion annually for “an incremental monthly payment based on an individual’s financial need.”

The Popular Democratic Party (PDP) District 11 representative said access to such a program would ensure islanders “a better quality of life.”

At the moment, SSI is available to residents of the 50 states, Washington, D.C. and the Northern Mariana Islands only.

“This program allows the most needy to have access to [essential] resources,” Hernández said. “I am talking about people living under poverty, young and elderly people with disabilities, people who are unable to work due to a disability.”

Hernández also said that including Puerto Rico in the SSI program would help islanders who are unable to obtain enough work credits to obtain Social Security benefits.

“Therefore, this is strictly a matter of basic social justice for Puerto Ricans,” he said.

Meanwhile, the House speaker urged every socio-economic sector to follow suit as the issue “affects every Puerto Rican and impacts social justice.”

Hernández said his letter to Garland is part of the effort that began Dec. 1 when he, along with fellow PDP lawmakers Ángel “Tito” Fourquet Cordero and Kebin Maldonado Martiz wrote a letter to Biden to request that the Justice Department withdraw its petition.

“The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Congress’ disparate treatment of the people of Puerto Rico exceeded the authority conferred upon it by Article IV and violated their right to equal protection of the laws, as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Hernández said. “Residents of Puerto Rico do not pay federal income taxes, yet we do pay FICA [Federal Insurance Contributions Act] taxes in the same proportion that applies to the 50 U.S. states.”

Hernández told members of the press that he will be meeting today with Financial Oversight and Management Board Executive Director Natalie Jaresko to address the matter.

“On behalf of the hard-working FICA taxpayers who have been fully taxed for their entire lives, [and] who simply cannot live a dignified life on partial Social Security, we are requesting that the U.S. government consider this case on the merits and desist from pursuing it,” the House speaker said.

The STAR reported in September that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal Court of Appeals ruling that Congress’ decision to not extend the program to Puerto Rico violates the equal-protection clause as the federal Justice Department, under the administration of then-President Donald Trump, argued that the appeals court ruling would have costly consequences for U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico.

“The petition demonstrated racist and discriminatory language, a language that showed the dark souls of Republicans who followed Trump,” Hernández said. “It’s now time for the Biden-Harris administration to prove that they’re the opposite of the former administration [in their attitude] toward Puerto Ricans.”

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