If Puerto Rico becomes a State, residents will be eligible for SNAP (the food stamps program) just as residents of States are. In the meantime, however, U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico have limited benefits for nutrition assistance.
Not only are the amounts provided to families much lower in Puerto Rico than in any State, but there is an overall cap on the funds. If more funds are needed, Puerto Rico cannot access additional federal funds as States can — even if there is an exception need for it, such as was the case with Hurricane Maria and the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Jenniffer González-Colón, has introduced a bill to end this situation (H.R. 5220).
This bill, the “Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance Fairness Act of 2021,” is intended “to transition the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to the supplemental nutrition assistance program,” which is the food stamps program in the States.
The bill calls on the Secretary of the federal Department of Agriculture (USDA) to appoint an advisory board with staff from USDA and Puerto Rico’s Department of the Family. This advisory board would develop a 5-year plan to transition Puerto Rico from its current program, NAP, to SNAP.
The government of Puerto Rico would submit the plan to the Secretary of the USDA for approval. The bill also calls for the continuation of NAP for five years to allow for the transition. It specifies that overlap of the two programs might be required.
“Puerto Rico needs to offer nutritional assistance that is adaptable to the needs of the island. SNAP relies on funds that cover changes in demand and offers more monthly benefits than NAP. This impacts the health of residents, as well as the local economy. This legislation is a step in that direction. I remain committed to working on this transition and will continue to work with the USDA and my colleagues in Congress to achieve a secure transition,” said González-Colón.
Support in Washington
Cosponsors include representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA), Chairman of the House Committee on Rules; Jayana Hayes (D-CT), Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations at the House Agriculture Committee; and Darren Soto (D-FL).
“The bottom line is that the status quo is unfair and does not respect the people who live on the island,” said Chairman James P. McGovern. “It is time that we develop a plan that respects all American citizens, including those residing on the island of Puerto Rico. I congratulate Congresswoman González-Colón for her work in presenting this legislation for Puerto Rico’s transition to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”
The USDA is currently preparing to conduct a study entitled “Food Security Status and Well-Being of Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) Participants in Puerto Rico.” The goal is to establish baseline estimates of household food security status in Puerto Rico.
It has been reported that 40% of households in Puerto Rico face food insecurity. The USDA study will examine the complete food system in Puerto Rico, including production and acquisition of food as well as transportation and logistics, and the use of food in households. Particular attention will be paid to experiences during natural disasters.