U.S. Supreme Court weighs Puerto Rico’s exclusion from benefits program By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Authority of Regulation statue is pictured exterior the U.S. Supreme Court docket constructing as rulings are anticipated to be launched at this time in Washington, D.C., U.S. June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno/File Photograph

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court docket on Tuesday is about to weigh the legality of a decades-old congressional determination to exclude Puerto Rico from a federal program that gives advantages to low-income aged, blind and disabled folks.

The justices are listening to the U.S. authorities’s attraction of a decrease courtroom ruling that deemed Puerto Rico’s exclusion from the Supplemental Safety Revenue (SSI) program illegal.

The attraction initially was filed by Republican former President Donald Trump’s administration. His Democratic successor Joe Biden has continued the attraction whereas on the similar time urging Congress to increase SSI to Puerto Rico.

Many Puerto Ricans have lengthy complained that the Caribbean island’s residents are handled worse than different People regardless of being U.S. residents. Puerto Rico, which isn’t a state, is the most-populous of the U.S. territories, with about 3 million folks.

The case entails a Puerto Rican resident named Jose Luis Vaello-Madero who obtained SSI advantages when he lived in New York however misplaced eligibility when he moved to Puerto Rico in 2013.

The Supreme Court docket has been instrumental in defining the authorized standing of Puerto Ricans relationship to a sequence of rulings beginning greater than a century in the past known as the Insular Instances, some suffused with racist language. The rulings endorsed the notion that the folks of newly acquired U.S. territories may obtain completely different remedy than residents dwelling in U.S. states. Vaello-Madero’s case offers the justices a chance to revisit these rulings.

The Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court docket of Appeals dominated final yr in favor of Vaello-Madero, deciding that Puerto Rico’s SSI exclusion violated a provision of the U.S. Structure that requires that legal guidelines apply equally to everybody.

Vaello-Madero, who’s 67 years outdated and disabled, mounted his constitutional problem after the federal government sued him in federal courtroom in Washington in 2017 in search of greater than $28,000 for funds it made to him after he moved to Puerto Rico.

The federal government’s lawsuit was filed a month earlier than Vaello-Madero misplaced the roof of his house in Hurricane Irma, which was adopted weeks later by the devastating Hurricane Maria.

SSI advantages can be found to U.S. residents dwelling in any of the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and the Northern Mariana Islands, however not the territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam.

Congress determined to not embrace Puerto Rico when it enacted this system in 1972. Puerto Ricans are eligible for a unique authorities program, known as Help to the Aged, Blind and Disabled, that enables for extra native management however not as a lot federal funding, the Justice Division mentioned in courtroom papers.

The Supreme Court docket’s ruling is due by the top of June.

Biden mentioned in June that the present regulation’s denial of SSI advantages to residents of Puerto Rico is “inconsistent with my administration’s insurance policies and values” and requested lawmakers to amend the statute to increase the advantages to the territory.

After passing infrastructure laws on Saturday, congressional Democrats are working to finalize a large social spending invoice, the newest draft of which features a provision extending the advantages to Puerto Rico. If that laws passes, it might restrict the significance of the Supreme Court docket’s eventual ruling.

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