Presently, residents of Puerto Rico are only able to draw under the Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) or Title II program for Social Security, and are not able to draw under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. This is due to the fact the Social Security Act excludes Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, from the SSI benefits program. However, these rules may be changing soon which would greatly help disabled residents of Puerto Rico who have been unable to work. Similarly, most children’s claims for disability fall under the SSI program. This would vastly expand the number of Puerto Rican children who are allowed to receive disability benefits.
On February 4, 2019, U.S. District Judge Gustavo A. Gelpi issued an opinion noting that the denial of SSI disability benefits to United States citizens in Puerto Rico is unconstitutional. Judge Gelpi stated that to not allow SSI disability benefits to the citizens of Puerto Rico would be “a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.”
In the case, the government argued that the cost of including Puerto Rico in the SSI program would be too expensive since residents of Puerto Rico do not pay federal income tax which funds the SSI program. Judge Gelpi found the government’s argument to be invalid.
“This is not a valid justification for creating classifications of United States citizens and justifying the same under the lax scrutiny of social and economic legislation. While line drawing is necessary for Congress to pass social and economic legislation, it is never a valid reason for disparate treatment of United States citizen’s fundamental rights… [which] are the same in the States as in the Territories, without distinction. Equal Protection and Due Process are fundamental rights afforded to every United States citizen, including those who under the United States flag make Puerto Rico their home. All United States citizens must trust that their fundamental constitutional rights will be safeguarded everywhere within the Nation, be in a State or Territory.”
The SSI program is for those who have not paid into the system in order to be insured for Disability Insurance Benefits. Because Puerto Rican children are not of legal age to pay into the Disability Insurance Benefits, their inability to receive SSI infringes on their constitutional rights.
In response to the District Court’s decision, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Jennifer González Colón (R) introduced the “Supplemental Security Income Equality Act,” which would extend the SSI benefits program to Puerto Rico as well as Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, Social Security has not yet published instructions on how they will process SSI claims made in Puerto Rico and the other territories or when this will take effect.
If you or someone you know needs help with a disability claim please call us at 251-343-1111 or 1-800-332-1529 or look us up online at www.gardberglaw.com. Send us a message and we will be happy to review your claim and see if we can help you get the benefits you deserve. Call one of the experienced disability representatives at Gardberg & Kemmerly, P.C. today for a free consultation. Gardberg & Kemmerly specializes in helping the injured and disabled in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana.