Things That Matter

Biden Administration Will Continue To Exclude Puerto Ricans From Receiving Disability Benefits

Although President Biden claims the discriminatory law goes against his beliefs, he has ordered his Department of Justice (DOJ) to continue to defend the policy targeting Puerto Rico. As he sends his Solicitor General to defend the law, he’s also called on Congress to update the law and do away with its anti-Puerto Rican policies.

But for many who voted for him, including the territory of Puerto Rico, his actions are a slap in the face. For years, Puerto Ricans have been denied a benefit that many others consider a lifeline when they fall on hard times. Unfortunately, Puerto Ricans will continue to be denied this benefit for the foreseeable future.

Biden’s DOJ is defending a discriminatory law that prohibits Puerto Ricans from receiving disability benefits.

In a statement this week, President Biden’s administration announced that it would defend a federal law that prohibits Puerto Rican residents from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which millions of people rely on for disability payments. The SSI program is a federal program which provides income for low-income citizens with disabilities and ultimately falls under control of Congress.

However, as the president laid out his reasoning for his administrations decision to defend the law, he also called on Congress to extend eligibility to the U.S. territory’s residents.

“This provision is inconsistent with my Administration’s policies and values,” Biden said in a statement. “However, the Department of Justice has a longstanding practice of defending the constitutionality of federal statutes, regardless of policy preferences. This practice is critical to the Department’s mission of preserving the rule of law. Consistent with this important practice, the Department is defending the constitutionality of the Social Security Act provision in this case.”

The announcement comes as the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge against the provision.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court agreed to take up the case of José Luis Vaello-Madero in a case that challenges the constitutionality of Puerto Rico’s exclusion from the program. The government had sued Vaello-Madero, an elderly disabled man who had been receiving disability payments, for $28,000 in supplemental income that he had received after he moved from New York to Puerto Rico. 

The man’s attorneys won their arguments in lower courts who found that the Social Security Act provision violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, prompting the Trump administration to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Many are upset President Biden is defending a law he admits is discriminatory.

Throughout the country’s history, administrations have frequently chosen to not defend the constitutionality of certain federal laws that they opposed. For example, President Obama told his DOJ not to defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. And more recently, the Trump administration chose not to defend the Affordable Care Act – Obama’s signature health legislation – in federal courts.

So many are asking why President Biden has told his Justice Department to defend the exclusion of Puerto Rican residents from a federal program. And what other laws the president may defend in the future.

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