The federal nutrition assistance program operating in states – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – is an entitlement program that can expand to accommodate changing needs. Individuals who qualify based on their financial situation can always join the program. After an unexpected emergency – such as a hurricane – the program is available to all U.S. citizens in the states until they get back on their feet.
This is not the case in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP), is a capped block grant. If there is a natural disaster and needs go up, resources are not automatically increased to address these needs. After Hurricane Maria, Congress addressed this situation by approving an extra $1.27 billion to cover the increased need for nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico expects to run out of its supplemental nutrition assistance funds in March.
Nutritional assistance for Puerto Rico is included in the House Democrat disaster relief package released on Friday. The proposal would add $600 million to the program to cover roughly six months of nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico, as the U.S. territory continues to recover. The bill’s fate remains uncertain.
Puerto Rico had higher poverty levels than all 50 states before the hurricanes struck, and relied heavily on imported food. Many crops were lost and post-disaster food aid was not handled well. FEMA auctioned off more than 34,000 emergency meals in Puerto Rico last month; they were never distributed. Continuing poverty in Puerto Rico makes the limitations of food assistance on the Island even more significant.