Church leaders urge Biden to drop Supreme Court case, aid vulnerable Puerto Ricans

Church leaders are calling on the Biden administration to withdraw a lawsuit that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The main issue in the case — filed by the Trump administration — is government benefits for vulnerable U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico.

Religious leaders quote Isaiah in their Feb. 16 letter to President Joe Biden.

United Church of Christ leaders were among 20 signers of a recent letter asking Biden to end the lawsuit. They said the suit, if successful, would deny $2.3 billion a year in Supplemental Security Income to some 300,000 people with disabilities in Puerto Rico.

SSI helps the elderly and people with disabilities who have little or no income.

History of the case

The Trump administration brought the suit, U.S. v. Vaello-Madero, in 2017. A federal district court dismissed it in 2019. So did a federal appeals court in 2020.

“The categorical exclusion of otherwise eligible Puerto Rico residents from SSI is not rationally related to a legitimate government interest,” the appeals court said.

The Trump administration then appealed to the Supreme Court, which said on March 1 that it will hear the case.

“I encourage us all to lift up our voices in support of the Puerto Rican people.”

UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer

Hurricane relief not enough

That brought renewed calls from some of the letter’s signers.

“I am shocked to learn that after including support for Puerto Rican citizens in his campaign rhetoric and denouncing the previous administration for its lack of compassion regarding assistance to these Americans, Joe Biden has not taken action to dismiss this action before the Supreme Court,” said the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president. “I stand by the letter I signed calling upon him to take that action and strongly encourage us all to lift up our voices in support of the Puerto Rican people.”

The religious leaders’ letter thanked Biden for sending hurricane relief to the island but said it wasn’t enough. Upon hearing the case had reached the Supreme Court, the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, one of the signers, reiterated that message. She is the UCC’s associate general minister for Wider Church Ministries. She is also co-executive of Global Ministries, a shared agency of the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

“Those already struggling and suffering are being penalized and dehumanized.”

UCC Associate General Minister Karen Georgia Thompson

“While the release of hurricane recovery funds are a start, we continue to ask that the administration move to withdraw the lawsuit and fully fund the Nutritional Assistance Program, Medicare, Medicaid and Earned Income Credit,” Thompson said. “The lack of provision of these social services mean that those already struggling and suffering are being penalized and dehumanized.”

Letter and its signers

The Disciples’ Global Ministries co-executive, the Rev. Julia Brown Karimu, also signed the letter. So did the leaders of two UCC full-communion partners, the National Council of Churches in the U.S., and three Global Ministries partners in Puerto Rico:

And there were more, from Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran and ecumenical bodies.

One of them — a longtime UCC partner — initiated the letter. “Jubilee USA Network works on a broad range of global debt and economic justice issues, and has since 2015 partnered with faith leaders in Puerto Rico to address the debt crisis and financial challenges that have been exacerbated by devastating hurricanes,” said Michael Neuroth, a UCC policy advocate based in Washington, D.C.

The full text of the letter and a complete list of its signers can be found here.

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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