Defending the Rights of Impoverished Puerto Ricans

By Published On: September 15, 2021Last Updated: May 24, 20241.5 min read

The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case of United States v. Vaello-Madero on November 9 and this case will determine if residents of Puerto Rico are entitled to access to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under the Fifth Amendment.

AARP, Justice in Aging, and NOSSCR filed an amicus brief, available here,  supporting the rights of Puerto Rico’s residents.  NOSSCR sincerely thanks its own members, Cody Marvin, and Pedro Cruz Sanchez, for co-authoring this brief alongside writers from all three organizations.

The summary of argument in the brief reads as follows:

“Congress created SSI “[f]or the purpose of establishing a national program to provide supplemental security income to individuals who have attained age 65 or are blind or disabled[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 1381. Congress envisioned that “[e]very aged, blind, or disabled individual who is determined . . . to be eligible on the basis of his income and resources shall . . . be paid benefits by the Commissioner of Social Security.” § 1381a. By definition, SSI beneficiaries have limited resources and depend on SSI for their survival.

SSI is a program of last resort. Puerto Rico residents’ need for SSI is particularly acute given the island’s high disability and poverty rate. Classifying a group of the nation’s poor and medically needy as ‘second tier’ simply because they reside in Puerto Rico is not rational and serves no rational purpose.

The categorical exclusion of Puerto Rico’s impoverished older residents from SSI is particularly harmful given the island’s lack of long-term care service benefits under Medicaid. The federal government’s denial of SSI to Puerto Rico residents leaves thousands of qualified older, disabled, and blind citizens struggling to survive just because they live in Puerto Rico. Numerous federal courts have recognized that for people living at a subsistence level, the denial of federal benefits can cause irreparable harm.


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