Congress authorized some extra food stamp (NAP) funding for Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico imports the vast majority of the food eaten on the Island, agriculture was strongly affected by the hurricanes, and the economy is still recovering. Congress identified another $600 million for nutrition assistance in 2018, but these funds have not been approved.
Right after the hurricanes, 85% of the population faced food insecurity. FEMA provided about 4 million meals for a population of about 3.5 million people… or just a little more than one meal per person. Even though we are more than one year out from Hurricane Maria, Bread for the World believes that “most families” are still food insecure.
In January, the White House claimed that the $600 million was “excessive and unnecessary.” Even though the poverty level in Puerto Rico is currently near 50%, the administration said, “There is no indication that households need ongoing support at this time or that Puerto Rico requires additional time to return to normal NAP operations.”
Governor Rossello spoke firmly against the characterization of the extra NAP funds as “unnecessary.” Now Puerto Rico is cutting food stamp funds. The average reduction in benefits for the 1.3 million Puerto Rico residents who receive NAP assistance will be 25%.
States receive funding for food stamps under the SNAP program, and the funds depend on need. If there is greater need, there is also greater funding. Puerto Rico, under the NAP program, receives less funding in the form of an block grant each year. When the funding runs out, there is no more funding.
Families of four will now receive about $410 per month in food stamps. This is roughly 40% less than an equivalent family would receive in the States.
States have equality
As a state, Puerto Rico will be on an equal footing with other states and will receive the same funding as other states, by law.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) suggests that the best solution would be to extend SNAP to Puerto Rico. The Island was under the SNAP program in the 1980s. However, such solutions are by their nature temporary. While the state of Puerto Rico would have SNAP, the territory of Puerto Rico has had it in the past and could have it again. But things that are a right for states are given by Congress to Puerto Rico on a whim. They can easily be taken away again.
Tell your legislators that it is time for statehood for Puerto Rico.