Court Battles

Judge: Denying Puerto Ricans access to welfare programs is unconstitutional

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A federal judge ruled that it is unconstitutional to deny Puerto Ricans access to social welfare programs, The Associated Press reported.

The Monday ruling also granted a two-month administrative stay of the injunction at the federal government’s request, meaning that, for now, the ruling will not apply unilaterally.

U.S. District Judge William G. Young, a Reagan appointee, wrote in a 70-page ruling that denying Puerto Ricans access to federal benefits is a discriminatory policy.

In the ruling, Young noted that residents of other U.S. territories, such as the Northern Mariana Islands, are eligible for federal benefits. 

The North Mariana Islands have a population of 56,882, compared to the 3.2 million people who live in Puerto Rico, which also has a poverty rate of 43 percent. 

“There is no doubt that the constitutional violations here are systemic,” Young wrote.

The federal government has argued that it would be too costly to provide the same benefits for the island. 

Legal experts told the AP that the government will likely appeal the ruling given the amount of money that is at stake if they are required to provide Puerto Ricans equal government benefits.

Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon (R), the island’s representative in Congress, applauded the court decision, calling the withholding of benefits “repugnant.”

“The result of this case is a natural extension of what was resolved in the case of Vaello Madero: the exclusion of residents of [Puerto Rico] of federal charitable programs available to other American citizens is repugnant to the basic principles of our Constitution,” she wrote.

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