September 29, 2023
This month marks the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which had devastating impacts on Puerto Rico. Maria was one of the worst storms to ever hit the island and the deadliest natural disaster on a U.S. territory in 100 years. Since then, the island has seen earthquakes, tropical storms, and hurricanes, including Fiona in 2022, impacting and sometimes halting the recovery process for Maria. While the resilience of its residents continues, so does an increase in food insecurity.
Unlike in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands, in Puerto Rico residents – who are United States Citizens – do not receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Instead, Puerto Rico receives the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP), which is structured differently from SNAP. This is a result of the Reagan administration’s severe budget cuts in the 1980s to what was then called the Food Stamp Program (FSP). Part of the budget cuts included excluding Puerto Rico from SNAP, which automatically reduced aid by 25 percent.
NAP is a capped block grant with a set amount of funding annually that cannot expand to meet an increased need, whether due to a disaster or economic downturn. This also means more restrictive eligibility requirements, lower monthly benefits, and not being eligible to receive Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP). D-SNAP provides replacement benefits for regular SNAP recipients who lose food in a disaster, and extends benefits to many households that would not ordinarily be eligible for, but suddenly need, food assistance.
A district court case decision, currently under appeal, summarizes best the inequity of NAP: “[D]enying needy U.S. citizens equal access to the [Supplemental Security Income], SNAP, and Low Income Subsidy] safety nets simply because they reside in Puerto Rico is unconstitutional, [and] a breach of ‘our American ideal of fairness.’”
As United States Citizens, Puerto Ricans have the right to urgent and equitable food access and should not be subject to fewer benefits solely based on residency. As the Coalition for Food Security Puerto Rico noted, “time is of the essence as Congress is currently considering the reauthorization of the Farm Bill which only happens every five years. For Puerto Rico to be included in SNAP, the Farm Bill must include language authorizing participation in the program. After 40 years of exclusion from the program, Puerto Rican’s have a right to access equitable benefits as American citizens irrespective of where they choose to live. Without access to SNAP, hunger and food insecurity continues to grow each day.”
Contact your Member of Congress to support these bills below:
- The Closing the Meal Gap Act (H.R.3037/S.1336), which revises the requirements for calculating SNAP benefits with the Low-Cost Food Plan, authorizes a standard medical expense deduction, eliminates the cap on the excess shelter expense deduction, eliminates time limits, and includes Puerto Rico’s transition into SNAP.
- The Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance Fairness Act of 2023,(H.R. 253/S.949 ), requires Puerto Rico to submit a proposed plan of operations for SNAP, including a transition plan to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to request to participate in the program. Upon determining that the plan satisfies the requirements for SNAP, the Secretary would then certify to Congress that Puerto Rico qualifies to participate as one of many jurisdictions eligible for nutrition assistance under the program. Additionally, the act authorizes the Secretary to continue the latest approved plan under the block grant for a period of no more than five years to accommodate any potential overlap between programs, as well as secure a successful transition from NAP to SNAP. Given the transition period, no immediate SNAP funding would be required for Puerto Rico