The debate on the political relationship between Puerto Rico and the U.S. was revived yesterday after President Donald Trump’s acting Solicitor General made some expressions before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Acting Solicitor General Attorn Jeffrey Wall said that statehood carries a “financial burden” that Puerto Rico must assume if the island wants to receive assistance such as the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.
Wall also stated that, on the contrary, receiving such assistance under the current status represents a “unilateral” fiscal relationship.
Wall said in a certiorari petition that Congress has a legitimate interest in avoiding a unilateral fiscal relationship under which Puerto Rico shares the financial benefits but not the financial burden of statehood, and declining to include Puerto Rico in the SSI program is a reasonable way to advance that interest.
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is a federal program designed to help people 65 or older, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income.
Washington Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González had asked the federal government to avoid reversing decisions in the SSI case, what did happen.
Yesterday, she was not available for an interview. In written statements, she indicated the appeal is a result of the Commonwealth.
González argued that the petition to the federal justice is based on the fact that “the conditions under which we live in our territory, such as the SSI, are tied to the will of Congress. We fall into the colonial trap of the Commonwealth”.
And she added that “the Commonwealth is the barrier that separates us from equality and from fully enjoying our rights as American citizens. This petition to the federal justice strengthens our call to vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum.
Pedro Pierluisi, the New Progressive (PNP) candidate for governor, stressed that the U.S. acting Solicitor General is using the power of Congress to treat the territories differently and justify it by referring to taxes.
“Although thousands of Puerto Ricans contribute to the federal treasury, there is no doubt that it offensive to blame us that those Puerto Ricans who live in Puerto Rico do not pay federal taxes on our income on the island,” he said.
In that sense, he highlighted decisions by the courts in San Juan and Boston, ruling that SSI beneficiaries will not pay taxes, whether Puerto Rico is a state or continues to be a territory, because they are people with limited resources.
Aníbal Acevedo Vila, the PDP candidate for Resident Commissioner, also highlighted this argument in response to some of Wall’s expressions referring to a “unilateral fiscal” relationship under the current status.
“Of course it is discrimination. And it´s not me who says so, Judge (Gustavo) Gelpí says it and the Boston Circuit Court of Appeals says it,” Acevedo Vila said it too.
He believes that the vision expressed in the certiorari petition filed by Trump´s acting Solicitor General results in a stronger impact for those who advocate for statehood as an option in the referendum to be held with the general election.
“This is the first federal official document I see where the financial burden of statehood is discussed,” Acevedo Vila said.
He stressed that “these are expressions that those of us who oppose statehood have historically used and that have emerged in studies by some federal agencies, such as the GAO (Government Accountability Office) pointing out that statehood would destroy the middle class and small businesses because they have to pay federal taxes”.