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Supreme Court ruling excluding U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico from federal benefits program angers some New Yorkers

New Yorkers angered by Supreme Court ruling denying federal benefits to residents in Puerto Rico 02:22

NEW YORK -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Congress is not required to extend federal benefits to people in Puerto Rico, and that has many New Yorkers angry.

As CBS2's Dick Brennan reports, this case involved the Supplemental Security Income program established in the '70s to provide a minimum income for the neediest adults who are over 65, blind or disabled. The high court said Thursday in an 8-1 ruling it's OK to exclude U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico from the program.

"The whole island is real bad," Harlem resident Juan Morales said.

Morales came from Puerto Rico 28 years ago but understands things are tough right now for many people back on the island.

"It's real hard, real, real hard, especially for the old people," he said.

He's among the many voices angry about the ruling denying a social security benefits program to people on the island, essentially because they don't pay federal taxes.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the majority, "Just as not every federal tax extends to residents of Puerto Rico, so too not every federal benefits program extends to residents of Puerto Rico."

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose parents are from Puerto Rico, wrote in the lone dissent, "Denying benefits to hundreds of thousands of eligible Puerto Rico residents because they do not pay enough in taxes is utterly irrational. There is no... basis for Congress to treat needy citizens living anywhere in the United States so differently from others."

Many in New York agree.

"It's unfair. We part of the United States, we should get all the benefits the United States get," one man said.

"If this is a United States territory, they should have the same rights as any territory, as any state in the United States," one woman said.

"For me, the Supreme Court's decision is a reminder that Puerto Rico is essentially a colony of the United States," said Rep. Ritchie Torres, from the Bronx.

Torres says that's why he believes that the solution for Puerto Rico is statehood.

"It would mean more political representation and more resources. It would mean two U.S. senators and five members of Congress," he said. "Statehood is how you break the cycle of colonialism and second-class citizenship."

Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the majority but issued a stinging denunciation of some of the court's 100-year-old precedents involving those who live in U.S. territories. He said they are shameful, rest on racial stereotypes and deserve no place in the law.

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