A federal judge has ruled against the federal government’s policy of denying Puerto Rican residents access to three major categories of federal assistance that are available to Americans living in the 50 states. Puerto Rico is, of course, a territory of the United States; although it’s not a state, it’s part of the country. Nevertheless, the federal government has been denying Puerto Rican residents access to Supplemental Security Income — which, as the Associated Press explains, “provides extra income for the elderly, blind, or disabled — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy. Judge William G. Young characterized these denials of access to assistance as unconstitutional and “discriminatory.”
At the request of the Trump administration, Young included a two-month delay until his ruling would apply to Puerto Ricans as a whole; for now, it “will apply only to the nine plaintiffs in the case,” the Associated Press explains. Yet, it’s still a significant victory for those advocating for the rights of the Americans who those in power might like to ignore. Edgardo Román, who serves as president of the Bar Association of Puerto Rico, called the ruling “a precedent” and “a significant change, without a doubt,” although he added that “whether it will be historic depends on its prevalence.” The Trump administration could theoretically appeal the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — although there’s no guarantee that the Supreme Court would actually take the case.
In the meantime, Young ruled:
‘The federal safety net is flimsier and more porous in Puerto Rico than in the rest of the nation. To be blunt, the federal government discriminates against Americans who live in Puerto Rico… There is no doubt that the constitutional violations here are systemic.’
Young, in his ruling, discussed the fact that Congress has rationalized excluding Puerto Rican residents from the benefits in question on account of the fact that they’re mostly exempt from personal federal income taxes. Yet, Young noted, for starters — many poor Americans already don’t pay federal income taxes, but they still have access to assistance. Furthermore, in the 2019 fiscal year alone, the federal government still managed to collect more than $3.5 billion from residents of Puerto Rico.
This case is not the first instance in which Puerto Rico has figured prominently in the Trump administration’s consistent attempts to ignore American issues that they’re not particularly concerned with. For months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017, the inhabitants were left without adequate federal support. Low access to electrical power plagued the island in the storm’s aftermath for months on end. Eventually, when an updated death toll came out including the thousands who died on the island due to the aftermath of the storm’s impacts, Trump disputed the numbers.
Imagine if Obama had said, in response to the 4 US deaths in Benghazi, or the 2 deaths in the US from Ebola, “it is what it is.”
That’s what Trump said in response to a 1000 dead a day; 154,000 dead total. “It is what it is.”
Just imagine the response if Obama had said that.
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) August 4, 2020
He’s reacted to the Coronavirus pandemic in a similar fashion. During an interview that aired this week on Axios on HBO. when confronted with the still high Coronavirus death toll, Trump said “it is what it is,” as if he’s not particularly concerned about the hundreds of Americans who are dying each and every day. He would seemingly rather focus on trying to prop up his public image.
Trump on AXIOS on HBO:
"they are dying, that's true. it is what it is."
this man is repulsive. pic.twitter.com/YGNLydS3zT
— mauro (@mauro_txt) August 4, 2020