SSR 79-27: Titles II and XVI: Interpretation of Section 502(a) of the Northern Marianas Covenant (Public Law 94-241)
To interpret Section 502(a) of the Northern Marianas Covenant extending Title II, Section 228 and Title XVI of the Social Security Act to the Northern Mariana Islands. Specifically, the policy statement deals with how the requirements of these programs regarding residency, citizenship and alienage will apply in the Northern Marianas.
Social Security Act, Section 228 and Title XVI; Public Law (P.L.) 94-241. Report of the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Senate Report No. 94-433, 94 Congress, 1st Session, pp. 76-77; Congressional Record Volume 122, Nos. 35 and 37.
On March 24, 1976, Congress approved by joint resolution (P.L. 94-241) the "Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America." Section 502(a) of the Covenant provides that:
"[t]he following laws of the United States . . . will apply to the Northern Mariana Islands . . . (1) . . . Section 228 of the Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act as it applies to the several States. . . ."
The effective date of this provision, according to Section 1003(b) of the Covenant, is "to be determined and proclaimed by the President of the United States which will be not more than 180 days after this Covenant and the Constitution of the Northern Mariana Islands have both been approved." Following Presidential Proclamation No. 4534 (42 Federal Register No. 207, pp. 56993-4, October 27, 1977), Section 502(a) of the Covenant became effective on January 9, 1978.
In order to be entitled to supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under title XVI, or to special age 72 payments under Section 228 of title II, an individual must be a resident of the 50 states or the District of Columbia, and must also be either a citizen of the United States or an alien meeting prescribed requirements. (Section 228(a) and 1614(a) of the Act.) No resident of the Northern Marianas presently would be able to meet both of these requirements. Obviously, no resident of the Northern Marianas could also be a resident of the 50 States or the District of Columbia and it is doubtful that more than a few of the residents could meet the citizenship- alienage requirements.
The question then is whether Section 502(a) of the Covenant requires the residency, citizenship and alienage requirements prescribed in Sections 228(a) and 1614(a) of the Social Security Act to be applied literally to the residents of the Northern Marianas. Such application would amount to extending SSI benefits and special age 72 payments to residents of the Northern Marianas only "on paper," making it impossible for any residents actually to become entitled to those benefits. If this obviously anomalous result is to be avoided, the eligibility requirements in title XVI and Section 228 of title II must be considered to apply to residents of the Northern Marianas to the same extent as if those individuals were residents of the "several States."
We do not believe that Congress intended that the application of Sections 502(a) and 1003(b) be only theoretical in the Northern Marianas. The legislative history of the joint resolution approving the Covenant indicated that Congress intended to provide workable and meaningful coverage on the effective date prescribed in Section 1003(b).
Further, actions of the Senate Finance Committee and of its Chairman taken prior to the joint resolution of Congress approving the Covenant on March 24, 1976, give added indication of the legislative intent regarding Section 502(a). On March 11, 1976, Senator Long, on behalf of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced a bill (S. 315) to preclude the extension of Section 228 of Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act to the Northern Marianas as provided in the Covenant. In lieu of benefits under Section 502(a), residents of the Northern Marianas would receive payments under Social Security Act assistance programs which presently apply to Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands. At the time S. 3125 was introduced, Senator Long made the following statement on the floor of the Senate:
". . .[I]n establishing the Supplemental Security Income—SSI—program for needy aged, blind, and disabled persons in 1972, Congress intentionally and specifically limited its applicability to the 50 States and the District of Columbia. . . . [I]n view of the different economic and other circumstances in the territories and possessions, the Congress felt it would be inadvisable to provide the Federal SSI income guarantee level in the territories and possessions. For these jurisdictions, Congress continued the then existing program of aid and services for the aged, blind, and disabled . . . .
"The covenant establishing a new U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana islands, which was recently approved by the Senate, includes a provision making these Social Security Act programs applicable to that jurisdiction . . . .
". . . . The Marianas Covenant would extend to the new commonwealth programs which were never intended to apply to territories and which in fact are not in effect in other territories. The terms of ratification of the Covenant are such that the covenant itself could not be amended in the State Senate without undoing the entire agreement, but the particular provision of the covenant in question is one which the covenant permits to be changed by further legislation.
"On behalf of the Finance Committee, I am introducing a bill which will delete the applicability of these two Social Security Act programs to the Northern Marianas Commonwealth and will provide instead for the establishment there of those Social Security Act assistance programs which now apply to Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands." (Congressional Record, Vol. 122, No. 35, 3279, March 11, 1976.)
There can be little doubt, therefore, that the Senate Committee on Finance believed approximately 2 weeks prior to the approval of the Covenant and the Chairman clearly communicated to the full Senate at that time, that the Covenant would extend the SSI and special age 72 benefit programs to the Northern Marianas. When social security programs are extended to new geographical areas, eligibility is ordinarily provided (unless express exceptions are prescribed) on a basis which is comparable to that for individuals who are already covered by the program. The introduction of S. 3125 by Senator Long and his statement on the floor of the Senate, quoted above, in support of S. 3125 indicate this type of extension as a result of Section 502(a) of the Covenant. (No action was taken on S. 3125 by the Senate.) On June 16, 1976, the Senate amended a House bill (H.R. 13069) to accomplish essentially what would have been accomplished by S. 3125. The Senate, however, receded from its amendments to H.R. 13069 on July 1, 1976, and the bill was enacted (as P.L. 94-354) without the amendments on July 12. Nor has subsequent legislation amended Section 502(a).
Therefore, on the basis of the language Section 502(a), the history of the joint resolution approving the Covenant and the history of bills which were introduced and explained during legislative deliberations prior to passage of the joint resolution, it seems clear that Congress believed at the time it approved the Covenant that Section 502(a) would extend coverage under the two programs to the Northern Marianas on the same basis as coverage has been provided in the several States.
In implementing Section 502(a) of the Northern Marianas Covenant (P.L. 94-241), which provides that section 228 of Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act shall apply to the Northern Marianas "as (such provisions apply) to the several States" on an effective date prescribed in Section 1003(b) of the Covenant, the eligibility requirements of Section 228 and title XVI will be applied as if residents and citizens of, or qualified aliens in, the Northern Marianas beginning on that date were residents of the several States and citizens of, or qualified aliens in, the United States.
In the case of residents and citizens of, or qualified aliens in, the Northern Marianas all applicable requirements apply except for United States residence and either United States citizenship or appropriate alien status. For these individuals, residency, citizenship and alienage requirements will apply which are comparable to the requirements that apply in the several States.
Implementing regulations were published at 43 Federal Register NO. 112, pp. 25090-2, June 9, 1978.