DOJ to defend Puerto Rico benefits ban, which Biden calls “inconsistent” with his values

President Joe Biden announced Monday that the Justice Department will continue to defend a law prohibiting residents of Puerto Rico from obtaining federal benefits for low-income people with disabilities, even though he believes “the provision is inconsistent with the policies and values ​​of my administration “.

The president released the statement ahead of a brief that DOJ lawyers planned to file with the United States Supreme Court to defend a provision in Social Security law that prevents residents of Puerto Rico from receiving income benefits. additional security, or SSI. This provision is challenged in United States v. Jose Luis Vaello-Madero.

“As I said, I believe residents of Puerto Rico should be able to receive SSI benefits, as should their fellow Americans in all 50 states and Washington DC,” Biden said in a statement.

“However, the Department of Justice has a long-standing practice of upholding the constitutionality of federal laws, regardless of political preferences. This practice is essential to the department’s mission of upholding the rule of law. In accordance with this important practice, the ministry defends the constitutionality of the provision of the law on social security in this case, ”he added.

The president urged Congress to amend Social Security law to make benefits available in Puerto Rico, and also called on lawmakers to remove Medicaid funding caps for U.S. territory.

“As I said before, there can be no second class citizens in the United States of America. My administration will work with members of Congress to make these legislative fixes a reality,” Biden said.

Hermann Ferré, an attorney for Vaello-Madero, told NBC News: “While we are glad that the president has drawn attention to the importance of the case, we do not see how it is possible to defend a A legal regime which, as the President rightly recognizes, treats the residents of Puerto Rico as “second-class citizens.” Such treatment is, by definition, unconstitutional under the principles of equal protection. ”

Ferré’s client is a U.S. citizen with medical conditions who started collecting SSI benefits while living in New York City in 2012, but lost eligibility when he moved to Puerto Rico a year later. The government took legal action to recover the payments after finding out he had moved, court documents show.

Lawyers for Vaello-Madero argued the provision violated the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment due process clause, and two courts agreed, leading the Trump administration to appeal to the Supreme Court .

In its court documents, the government argued that the provision is constitutional and that Congress “already provides federal assistance to needy elderly, blind and disabled people in Puerto Rico through a different program – Help for the People. the elderly, blind and disabled (AABD). ” He said that “AABD provides more local control but less federal funding than SSI. “

The High Court agreed in March to hear the case.

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