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Supreme Court to Rule on SSI Eligibility for Puerto Rico Residents

The Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether to eliminate one of more the unique and obscure exceptions in disability law later this year.

Americans seeking disability benefits apply through two programs (and sometimes both, if eligible). The first program, Social Security Disability Insurance, is funded by payroll taxes, and benefits are paid out based on earnings and how much you’ve paid into the system. Generally, other sources of income do not affect eligibility for SSDI.

The other program, Social Security Supplemental Insurance, has a monthly benefit set at $794. This is the program for individuals who do not have the work credits to qualify for SSDI, and it generally has much more restrictive rules. For example, living with someone rent free can often reduce the monthly SSI benefit by hundreds of dollars each month.

While residents of American territories such as Puerto Rico have access to SSDI, the Supreme Court has long held that they are not eligible for SSI. Instead, Puerto Ricans have their own, stricter program with lower benefits called Aid to the Aged, Blind and Disabled.

Last year, a lower court ruled it unconstitutional to ban Puerto Ricans from the SSI program, a decision that was appealed by the Trump administration. But in early March, the Supreme Court said they would hear arguments on the case. A favorable decision could open up SSI benefits for more than 3 million residents of the island.

Curiously, while residents of three other U.S. territories, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Guam are not eligible for SSI either, SSI is available for the estimated 57,000 people living in the Northern Mariana Islands.

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