Commonwealth Citizen loses Federal Benefit Available in Other Countries

Was thinking about this one and Dale Coberly asked if I would write on this. For “Arne,” this post is about Supplemental Security Income. 🙂

How can that be?

The Supreme Court’s Callous Blow to Puerto Ricans” | Washington Monthly

The majority opinion relies on precedent, Puerto Rico is part of the U.S., Congress. Congress does not have to treat it as a real part of the nation. Puerto Rico citizens do not pay federal income tax. Apparently, it makes a difference. The citizen living on the mainland, was paying income tax and payroll tax like other citizen for almost three decades.  

A little history;

The issue is being assessed as part of a case involving JosĂ© Luis Vaello-Madero, 67, a disabled man who lived in New York from 1985 until 2013. He then moved to Puerto Rico to care for his wife. He had begun receiving SSI benefits in 2012, when he was still in New York, until he was told in 2016 he was ineligible after moving to the island.


Kavanaugh whines says “not so fast,” aided by the Supreme Court majority in Kavanaugh’s opinion. Previous cases state that Congress can treat Puerto Rico differently from the rest of the United States as long as it has a “rational basis” for doing so. Kavanaugh found that “rational basis” in “Puerto Rico’s tax status—in particular, the fact that residents of Puerto Rico are typically exempt from most federal income, gift, estate, and excise taxes.”

Some Explanation

There is a difference which the majority tosses to the side. This case is not about treating the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, its legislature, its courts, its tax system, or any other feature of the commonwealth as a commonwealth. And differently from governments of states. It is about treating an individual American citizen. A citizen, an individual, who lived on the mainland for nearly 20 years, working and paying taxes. SCOTUS is treating JosĂ© Luis Vaello-Madero differently from other citizens.

Equal protection, correctly understood, does not protect governments. Equal protection protects “persons” in the United States (which, whatever the SSI statute says as part of the United States). 

To wit, would we be having this discussion if Puerto Rio native José Luis Vaello-Madero wife was in Mexico, Canada, or South America? And he went there to care for her there? Kavanaugh and SCOTUS penalize him due to his return to Puerto Rico. José Luis earned SSI in the United States which can be used in other countries.

The Supreme Court’s Callous Blow to Puerto Ricans | Washington Monthly

United States v. Vaello-Madero – Harvard Law Review

20-303 United States v. Vaello Madero (04/21/2022) (

Supreme Court seems divided over Puerto Rico’s exclusion from federal benefits (