Abraham has two children with disabilities, Emanuel and Brenda, and his wife Gladys Fuentes is sick, so he applied for supplemental social insurance. (semisquare-x3)
Abraham has two children with disabilities, Emanuel and Brenda, and his wife Gladys Fuentes is sick, so he applied for supplemental social insurance. (Vanessa Serra Díaz)

Abraham Rivera has been thinking about applying for the Supplemental Social Security (SSI) benefit for several years.

Not only does he consider it unfair that Puerto Rico residents cannot benefit from the program, but he increasingly needs assistance to be able to meet the needs of its two children, who suffer from various health conditions.

"Once, I even wrote to (Pedro) Pierluisi when he was Resident Commissioner and he said that it was something that was going to take some time, but I thought it was necessary to continue knocking on doors," Rivera, a resident of Toa Alta, recalled.

"Time passed and now, when I saw the federal case, I felt motivated to make the decision to file the application, I am not doing this for myself, but for my children," he added.

Rivera is one of the first residents of Puerto Rico to formally apply for SSI since Federal Judge Gustavo Gelpí ruled that José Luis Vaello Madero did not have to return what he had received from SSI after moving from New York to Loiza.

In addition to the judge's decision, Rivera explained that the main reason that moved him to file the SSI application was that his wife suffered a health problem that forced her to undergo dialysis treatment, so she can no longer take care of the children.

Then, Rivera had to quit his job to take care of them. Brenda, their oldest daughter, 43, suffers from epilepsy and severe mental retardation, while their youngest son, Emanuel, 33, has cerebral palsy.

"I'm not asking this for myself, but for my children and my family," Rivera said. "My wife cannot take care of them and now I have to do it. That's why I had to retire before (turning) 60.

"And we can't move to the United States (where SSI is available) because we also help with the care of my mother-in-law. So I decided to apply. My children have the same right to receive it," he added.

He said the additional income from SSI would help ease their burden of monthly deductible expenses for medicines their children need on a regular basis.

"The situation is really complicated. The cost of everything rises... Deductibles are outrageously high, in addition to the increase in gasoline, food, electricity, and water... It is very difficult because they need maintenance medication they cannot stop taking," he said.

Once his children returned home after several months of hospitalization, on May 6, Rivera visited the Social Security Administration office in Plaza Los Palacios in Toa Alta to file his application.

"I told them what I think and they said this benefit does not exist here. Well, I told them I still wanted to apply. Then they warned me that they were going to deny it, but I didn't care if they denied it, but I still wanted to ask for it," he said.

"The last thing they told me was that I was going to receive a call from New York to tell me it's going to be denied. When they do so, I will ask them to do it in writing so I will give it to the ombudswoman (Iris Miriam Ruiz) because they keep a list of these cases," he added.

Rivera said that he is one of several citizens who are in that process and that if they do not advance, they are willing to be part of a class action lawsuit.

Ruiz explained that, in recent days, nearly 100 people have called the regional offices of the Ombudswoman asking for guidance on the process of applying for SSI, and that he is waiting for the results to send them to Vaello Madero lawyers in case he has to initiate legal actions.

Meanwhile, one of those lawyers, Hermann Ferré, told El Nuevo Día that although they did not rule out considering such a claim, right now their efforts are focused on the appeal filed by the U.S. government to Gelpí's order.

"If Boston rules in our favor, the federal government will go to the U.S. Supreme Court and our commitment is to follow the case until the end," he said.

The federal government argued that SSI cannot apply to Puerto Rico residents because the program works with income taxes paid in the United States.

Meanwhile, in this and other cases that denounce discrimination by exclusion, they argued that SSI is received in the United States by people who do not pay income taxes precisely because of their economic situation. 

In addition, in another case, known as "Sixta Peña Martínez," citizens who sue the government argue that Puerto Rico could pay more federal taxes than other jurisdictions if contributions made by corporations and citizens -who do have to pay because of the nature of their jobs- are added.

In the meantime, Rivera stands firm that he will fight for the benefit since he has more than enough reasons. 

"Like every family that lives on Social Security (regular), every day is more difficult than the day before because of the increase in costs, particularly in my children's medications and medical services," he said.

"And there are a lot of people who are worse off than we are. My family isn't the only one who needs it," Rivera stressed.

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