Chair Grijalva leads Bipartisan Letter Urging DOJ to Stop Defending the Exclusion of U.S. Citizens Who Live in U.S. Territories from National Social Safety Net Programs

Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and twelve Members of Congress wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar yesterday urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) to stop defending the exclusion of millions of U.S. citizens who reside in U.S. Territories from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicare Part D low-income subsidies (LIS). The lawmakers ask DOJ to withdraw itself from U.S. v. Vaello Madero, Peña Martínez v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Schaller v. U.S. Social Security Administration, where lower court rulings have already granted equal access to public services to citizens residing in the Territories and where further DOJ action is unwarranted.

The bipartisan letter, available at http://bit.ly/3rEvrBA, rejects DOJ’s continued use of a “separate and unequal” doctrine for territorial residents established in the Plessy-era Insular Cases, which argued that the Constitution only partially applies in unincorporated territories. Several federal courts in recent years have ruled unconstitutional the denial of certain federal benefits to the territories. Unfortunately, as the letter notes, DOJ continues to seek to reverse these decisions.

“While we recognize it is the role of DOJ to defend federal statutes, the offensive and illogical arguments DOJ has made to justify the second-class treatment of U.S. citizens living in the territories highlight why it would be appropriate for DOJ to stop defending this ongoing discrimination, which harms U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and other territories every day.”

Expanding these federal resources would provide critical assistance for millions of U.S. citizens residing in the territories, many of whom continue to grapple with the negative impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, recent natural disasters, and enduring economic crises. The Natural Resources Committee plans to host a hearing this year to discuss the extension of key federal benefits programs to these jurisdictions.