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LULAC Analysis: Supreme Court Ruling On SSI For Puerto Ricans Is Colonialism By Another Name

Nation’s Largest and Oldest Latino Civil Rights Organization Questions the Logic Behind Denying Equal Benefits to U.S. Citizens on the Island

Washington, DC - The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) issued the following statement after reviewing the legal arguments behind the 8-to-1 ruling denying Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to elderly, blind and disabled American citizens living in Puerto Rico. In its decision, the majority opinion stated that the U.S. Congress can treat citizens living on American territories differently than people who live in states. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the lone dissenter on the court.

The ruling was in the case of a disabled 67-year-old Jose Vaello Madero who received SSI while living in New York. In 2013 he moved to Puerto Rico and continued receiving benefits, but four years later, he was sued for $28,000 which the U.S. government claims he owes for money paid to him while living in Puerto Rico. Writing the opinion for the majority was Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was nominated and confirmed under President Trump in 2018. He characterized the decision, not as a denial, rather as a shield protecting the island’s residents from “far-reaching consequences” of treating all U.S. citizens alike. This equal but different treatment includes Puerto Rico residents not being required to pay federal income taxes.

Ray Velarde – LULAC General Counsel
“This decision is bewildering because it rationalizes denying 300,000 residents a total of $2 billion a year for which they would otherwise qualify in any state of the Union were it not for the sole fact that they live on the island of Puerto Rico. Nowhere else in America are U.S. citizens barred from equal treatment guaranteed under our Constitution simply because of geography. Add to that contradiction the fact that Congress is also the same political body that holds the power to approve or deny statehood for Puerto Rico, which if granted would ensure island residents could receive SSI. LULAC questions this duality of authority which places Congress in what we believe is a conflicted position. They hold the power which leaves island residents in a no-win position. Puerto Rico neither has SSI benefits now and its way forward toward statehood is blocked unless the House and Senate majorities approve.”

Elsie Valdes-Ramos – LULAC National Board Member and Vice-President for Women
“LULAC volunteers fan out across the island with food supplies and any assistance we can gather as often as possible to help people who are entitled to receive SSI but do not. Federal benefits should be extended to our residents because they qualify based on the same criteria someone else does in Florida, New York, Illinois, Iowa or anywhere else! Every government program must be decided on its own merit, and it is unfair to deny those in greatest need from receiving vital financial assistance. SSI recipients benefit least from not paying federal income taxes because most either cannot work or make very little money. It is blatantly disingenuous to say one benefit concession is a tradeoff for the other. Statehood is imperative so that Puerto Rico’s residents, who are U.S. citizens, are to be treated equitably. Anything less is colonialism by another name that keeps millions of men, women, and children in a second-class status.”


The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights volunteer-based organization that empowers Hispanic Americans and builds strong Latino communities. Headquartered in Washington, DC, with 1,000 councils around the United States and Puerto Rico, LULAC’s programs, services and advocacy address the most important issues for Latinos, meeting critical needs of today and the future. For more information, visit https://lulac.org/