The US Supreme Court hears arguments about how Social Security payments are controlled in Puerto Rico. It sounds academic, why should a place that has been part of the United States for over a hundred years have any problems with benefits?
In fact, the pronunciation is very important, not only with regard to those who receive benefits, but also with the way the US handles its “territories”, i.e. areas that are controlled by the US and are not full states, for their common future. It’s part of a story of 500 years of colonialism, of laws made during the United States’ worst past, and how? a fully just and democratic future can be the only solution for the concerns between the US and Puerto Rico.
Why is the difference between state and territory so important?
Despite being controlled by the US for over a century, Puerto Rico never got full sovereignty. It is classified as a territory, which means that the island is allowed to be governed in a completely different way from the other 50 states in the US.
While people from Puerto Rico are considered American citizens, they are not allowed to vote in US electionsalso for the president. Only Congress has real jurisdiction over territories, something the territories themselves cannot change. They don’t vote for senators. Here’s what the US Constitution says:
“In the territories, Congress has full rule and sovereignty, national and local, and has full legislative power over all matters on which a state legislature could act. It may legislate directly pertaining to the local affairs of an area or it may delegate that function to a legislature elected by the citizens of that area, who then acquires all legislative power, except as limited by the United States Constitution and laws of Congress.”
This fate is shared by other American possessionssuch as Guam and American Samoa. in effect it means that the areas can be treated with far from the care and support of the states in the US. This is where the judicial discussions surrounding Social Security are so important.
We are fighting to expand SSI into Puerto Rico and I hope our bill will become law soon.
PR voted for a state in 2020 and a state is the *only* way for PR’s 3 million US citizens to achieve true equality under SSI and all other federal laws.https://t.co/Wv3fSZVkXE
— US Representative Stephanie Murphy (@RepStephMurphy) Nov 9, 2021
In the contiguous US, citizens are eligible for SSI payments when their monthly earnings are less than $750 per month. In Puerto Rico, where the people are also citizens, they cannot earn more than $65 per month. To make matters worse, the average benefit on the island is a meager $77 per month, compared to the US average of $533 per month. In comparison, a person in Texas would receive ten times more than someone in Puerto Rico of their jobs and SSI benefits combined, if they worked just below the threshold. It is therefore no wonder that 44 percent of Puerto Ricans live in poverty, much higher than any state in the US.
About 700,000 people living in Puerto Rico will be eligible for SSI benefits if the Supreme Court dismisses the Justice Department’s appeal.
What is the likely outcome of the Supreme Court ruling?
The case that is answered is that of José Luis Vaello-Madero, 67, a disabled man who lived in New York City from 1985 to 2013. After moving to Puerto Rico, he continued to receive SSI payments for three more years, after which he was targeted by the Social Security Administration. They demanded that he repay $28,000 in benefits he received while on the island. He is fighting that decision.
Hermann Ferré, Vaello-Madero’s attorney, argues that the Insular Cases, a law that means the US Constitution does not apply to territories, will be quashed, giving Puerto Ricans the same rights as those in US states. The Insular Cases uses terms like “alien races” and “wild and restless people” to describe those who live in American territories. One of the statements stated that: Puerto Rico “was owned by the United States,” although “it was foreign to the United States in a domestic sense.”
Today the Supreme Court hears arguments in a case that could defend the rights of residents of Puerto Rico.
People living in Puerto Rico have the right to live under the full protection of the United States Constitution. Period.https://t.co/UQkZkijkau
— ACLU (@ACLU) Nov 9, 2021
Kavanaugh said Ferré made “compelling policy arguments” but noted that the Constitution’s territorial clause is something “people would like to change” but that it is not within the jurisdiction of the court. It’s up to Congress to change the status quo in Puerto Rico, and it looks like that decision could take a long time.