Resident commissioner announces anti-poverty bills

By The Star Staff

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón on Monday announced initiatives to fight poverty, promote work and give a break to individuals with health conditions that prevent them and their families from generating sufficient income to live.

González Colón introduced H.R. 105 and H.R. 106; the latter, the “Child Tax Credit Equity for Puerto Rico Act,” seeks to extend to Puerto Rico the Child Tax Credit (CTC) under the same conditions that apply in the states.

The measure would allow working families with one or two children to be eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $2,000 per child. The CTC would benefit about 355,000 families and 404,000 children on the island, representing $300 million annually. During past congressional sessions, lawmakers voted to extend the conditions under which the CTC would apply in Puerto Rico.

Regarding H.R. 105, or the “Earned Income Tax Credit [EITC] Equity for Puerto Rico Act,” the bill could mean a combined annual credit of between $300 and $8,500 between the federal and local versions, restored in 2019. The funds would impact more than 300,000 taxpayers.

Both measures were co-authored by Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.).

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) has in the past expressed his support for the aforementioned programs to be extended to Puerto Rico. The resident commissioner said she continues to promote the approval of the measures in the current 117th Congress.

The measures also have Senate support, with the CTC led by Republican Marco Rubio of Florida and the EITC by Democrat Bob Menéndez of New Jersey.

González Colón also filed HR 537 to extend the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program to residents of Puerto Rico. The action of the resident commissioner joins a list of efforts that she has led in different forums for the past year so that poor people 65 years of age or older and those who have disabilities or other health conditions or minors with special conditions can receive this federal assistance.

The bipartisan measure is co-authored by Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), Stacey Plaskett (D-U.S.V.I), Amata Radewagen (R-A.S.) and Soto.

“Unlike traditional Social Security, SSI does not require a beneficiary to make payments to the program to be eligible for program benefits. An American citizen residing in the 50 states who receives SSI is as likely to pay federal taxes as one who lives in Puerto Rico,” González Colón said. “There is no justifiable reason for this legal discrimination for the sole reason of living in a territory. The needs are the same, no matter where the person lives.”

Torres pointed out that “Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens, feel the weight of discrimination every day when they try to access benefits, but they are automatically denied only because they live on the island and not on the mainland.”

“The pandemic has devastated Puerto Rico’s economy and thousands are struggling to make ends meet,” he said. “Ensuring equitable access to anti-poverty benefits, like SSI, will help Puerto Ricans put food on their tables and alleviate financial pressures families face. I am proud to lead this bill with Congresswoman González Colón and advocate for hard-working Puerto Rican families who desperately need our help during these difficult times.”

SSI is a program of last resort as beneficiaries must apply for all other benefits for which they may be eligible before they can receive assistance under that program. The maximum benefit provided by the SSI program is $794 per month for an individual, or $1,191 per month for a couple. For 2019, the average SSI beneficiary received $551 per month ($655 for minors with disabilities).

The Social Security Administration prepared a report in which it estimated that if the SSI program were applied in Puerto Rico, the federal government’s investment would be between $1.8 billion and $2.4 billion per year, for the next 10 years.

González Colón has filed legislation several times to have the SSI extended to Puerto Rico.

On Dec. 20, 2018, the congresswoman advocated for equal conditions and funds in federal programs for American citizens living in Puerto Rico through the friend of the court appeal that she defended in the USA v. Vaello-Madero case in federal court.

On May 29, 2020, the resident commissioner asked the then-U.S. attorney general to allow the ruling of the First Circuit Court of Appeals extending the SSI benefit to be final and not to request a review before the United States Supreme Court, but the issue is currently before the top court.

The congresswoman also sent a letter to President Joseph Biden asking him to withdraw the appeal of the federal government to the Supreme Court on the decision of the First Circuit in the Vaello-Madero case.

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