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Although people think they are the same program, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) serve different participants and has Social Security is available in Puerto Rico.

Víctor Rodríguez, spokesman for the Social Security Administration office in Puerto Rico, said that both benefits have different purposes and requirements.

"Social Security is what is known as workers' insurance. It's what we pay while we work," Rodríguez explained. "If you're an employee, it is deducted from your checks. If you are self-employed, you have to file a federal return."

The federal official added that "when you retire, you can receive Social Security, regardless of where you live.”

He stressed that, generally, people with high, moderate or low income can benefit from Social Security, because it is related what they paid into the system while working and in Puerto Rico people receive the same as in the mainland; “it is calculated in the same way,” he added.

Meanwhile, Rodríguez noted that SSI is another separate federal program with different requirements and that it is not available to residents of some US territories such as Puerto Rico.

SSI was created through a law signed in 1972 by President Richard Nixon, which federalized several state welfare programs.

SSI is available “to people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. Blind or disabled children may also get SSI,” according to the Social Security Administration website.

"It is a program based on disability or economic need, like people who are below the poverty line," said Rodríguez.

He added that "this benefit is not paid with our contributions to Social Security,” it is financed by federal personal income taxes, corporate and other taxes. 

The original law established that SSI was only for residents of all 50 states and Washington DC.

Then, in 1976, an amendment to the law extended the SSI benefit to residents of the Northern Mariana Islands, which is an unincorporated territory.

"Under the law, you have to report every time you move,” because living arrangements and personal resources such as what kind of car a person has are factors that determine how much SSI they can get, said Rodríguez.

"The state where you live, also determines the benefit, since there are some state where you receive more on SSI, because they contribute to the program," he added.

As for those who leave the mainland, he pointed out that "the law also requires people to notify if they are going to be more than 30 days away from the places where SSI is available".

In the past few days, SSI drew attention in Puerto Rico after, on Monday, federal judge Gustavo Gelpí ruled that José Luis Madero Vaello could keep the $ 28,000 he received in SSI monthly payments after moving from New York to Loíza in 2013. The US government had filed a lawsuit for him to return the money.

Gelpí's decision included an opinion that described the exclusion of Puerto Rico from SSI as “a violation of “basic due process” principles and equal protection of the laws. 


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