WASHINGTON – Today the National Council on Disability releases a report highlighting the negative impact of federal policies on Americans with disabilities residing in Puerto Rico.
Disparate Treatment of Puerto Rico Residents with Disabilities in Federal Programs and Benefits examines the social, legal, and ethical implications of not extending certain federal benefits programs to residents in Puerto Rico, who experience poverty at a rate of 43 percent.
The report highlights the experiences of Puerto Ricans with disabilities, who often do not receive much-needed support and services because of the disparate federal funding for essential safety net programs in Puerto Rico. The report examines the differences in the ways programs for people with disabilities include Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work and are funded on the island.
“For over 687,000 people with disabilities in Puerto Rico, the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act is much further away than those with disabilities on the mainland because of the dramatic differences in federal programs and benefits for these American citizens on the island,” said NCD Chairman Andrés Gallegos. “Although our report was written before the recent Vaello-Madero Supreme Court decision, we agree when the majority of the Court noted the ripeness for Congress to reconsider extending federal benefits programs to the residents in the territories,” he said. “American citizens, particularly the most vulnerable, shouldn’t be treated differently by their government because of their zip code.”
This report examines how continued disparities result in delays in federal response following natural disasters in Puerto Rico. Finally, this report also examines how disparities limit the availability of durable medical equipment (DME) and create barriers to obtaining employment, transportation, and accessible housing.
“The co-pay for a Puerto Rican beneficiary to acquire a power wheelchair is greater than Puerto Rico’s average annual per capita income,” said Council Member Daniel Schreck. “Federal policy should not force an American citizen with a disability to decide between food and rent or mobility and independence. Instead, Congress should understand and address the disparities that result from a federal policy which materially disadvantages our citizens in Puerto Rico.”
Key recommendations in the report include:
- Congress should re-evaluate the provisions of the Jones Act, specifically those provisions that restrict coastwise trade on U.S. flagged vessels regarding durable medical equipment covered under Medicare Part B such as manual wheelchairs, power wheelchairs and components, and replacement parts, scooter and component parts, and replacement parts, a patient lift, and transfer equipment, patient ventilators, portable oxygen, foam, gel, innerspring and air mattresses, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices, shower chairs and commode chairs, and suction pumps.
- Congress should amend the Social Security Act to replace the Medicaid block grant program in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories with a federal matching system comparable to the Medicaid program provided to U.S. residents.
- Congress should amend Title XVI of the Social Security Act to extend eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to eligible residents in Puerto Rico.
- Congress should extend SNAP benefits available under the Food Stamp Act to eligible residents in Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa, as Congress has historically extended to the residents in Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
NCD is an independent, nonpartisan federal agency that advises the President, Congress, and other federal agencies on disability policy.
Read the report at NCD.gov.