U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Federal Benefits for Puerto Rico Residents

Greg Stohr (Bloomberg/Quint) writes about the recent vote that determines that the federal government can continue to exclude Puerto Rico from the Supplemental Security Income program, which covers needy people who are blind, otherwise disabled or elderly.

The federal government can continue to exclude Puerto Rico from a Social Security benefits program, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a decision that will stop more than $2 billion a year from flowing to the island’s residents.

Voting 8-1 to overturn a lower court ruling, the justices said the Constitution’s equal protection clause doesn’t require the inclusion of Puerto Rico’s residents in the Supplemental Security Income program, which covers needy people who are blind, otherwise disabled or elderly. Writing for the court, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said Congress can constitutionally treat Puerto Rico differently than the 50 U.S. states in some circumstances. Although Puerto Rico residents are U.S. citizens, they can’t vote in federal elections and generally don’t pay U.S. income taxes.

“If this court were to require identical treatment on the benefits side, residents of the states could presumably insist that federal taxes be imposed on residents of Puerto Rico and other territories in the same way that those taxes are imposed on residents of the states,” Kavanaugh wrote. “Doing that, however, would inflict significant new financial burdens on residents of Puerto Rico, with serious implications for the Puerto Rican people and the Puerto Rican economy.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose family is from Puerto Rico, was the lone dissenter. She wrote that “there is no rational basis for Congress to treat needy citizens living anywhere in the United States so differently from others.” [. . .]

For full article, see https://www.bloombergquint.com/onweb/supreme-court-rejects-puerto-rico-residents-on-federal-benefits

[Photo above: The Puerto Rican flag flies above a damaged house in Yabucoa, in eastern Puerto Rico. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images).]

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