By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The expansion of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program and Medicaid to residents of U.S. territories are included in the proposed budget reconciliation bill.
"If Congress acts based on this draft language, it could mean monthly SSI checks of up to $794 directly to more than 300,000 of the most vulnerable residents of U.S. territories," said Neil Weare, president of Equally American.
Among U.S. territories, SSI applies only to the CNMI. Federal courts have ruled that statutes excluding U.S. terittories from the SSI program were unconstitutional.
The proposed Medicaid expansion would bring these programs much closer to full parity, greatly expanding healthcare availability for low-income territorial residents.
“If the proposed expansions to SSI and Medicaid are enacted into law, this would represent a truly historic step toward equality for the 3.5 million U.S. citizens who call the territories home,” Weare said. “We still need to keep pushing though to make sure these proposals are actually enacted into law.”
The U.S. Congress on Thursday released the 1,684-page text of H.R. 5376, the Build Back Better Act.
“Over the last few weeks I’ve corresponded with hundreds of residents of Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa whose lives have been severely impacted by the denial of SSI benefits to residents of the territories,” Weare added. “I’m hopeful that Congress may finally provide them the relief they’ve been seeking for so many years. But we can’t rest until this becomes law.”
Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes welcomed the news.
“It is clear that we can no longer afford to allow the 'separate but equal' doctrine applied to the territories," she said.
“Expanding SSI coverage is about so much more than recognizing local residents with disabilities—it means supporting U.S. citizens so they can support themselves,” said Sen. Mary Torres. “The budget reconciliation bill brings us one step closer to addressing decades of exclusion in Guam, and equal justice for our most vulnerable.”
The Democratic Party of Guam issued the following statement:
"Throughout the year, Guam's Democratic Party leadership joined the chorus of support expressed by Governor Leon Guerrero, Democratic Legislative leadership, and our Delegate to Congress for parity and equality for Guam's residents and all Americans who live in US territories," said newly installed Guam Democratic Party Chairman Tony Babauta. He adds “from the Guam Congress Building, to Adelup, to Washington: Democrats have achieved a monumental milestone by bringing this issue to the forefront. We did this because we all agree that healthcare and critical social services are vital to our community.”
This morning, Chairman Babauta, Vice Chairwoman Jenn Dulla and Acting Executive Director Chirag Bhojwani participated in their first virtual meeting with DNC representatives. The Democratic Party of Guam highlighted many areas where both the DPG and DNC can collaborate and work with local and national democrats to advance President Biden’s agenda.
" Tomorrow, DPG representatives will also be participating in a meeting with senior DNC and White House staff relative to the Build Back Better Plan. The Democratic Party of Guam will continue to advocate for the extension of Medicaid and SSI to the territories and tell the Guam story to ensure that this provision is not removed. The Democratic Party of Guam further thanks President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Grijalva and Vice Chair Sablan for their tireless efforts in fulfilling this promise to Guam."