WASHINGTON, June 4, 2019 — Congress passed a long-awaited disaster aid package yesterday evening. The $19.1 billion aid package includes much-needed help for communities in many states and U.S. territories. Notably, it includes $600 million for Puerto Rico’s Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP), which is the Commonwealth’s version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Unlike SNAP, which is designed to provide assistance to all eligible people who apply, NAP is structured as a limited block grant.
NAP has seen a swell in demand in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, but because the program is block granted it only receives a fixed amount of money each year, so has been unable to adequately respond to the increased demand. As a result, 1.4 million people in Puerto Rico, including more than 300,000 children, have experienced deep cuts to their NAP benefits, increasing hunger and poverty on the island. This action by Congress to add funds to the program is both long overdue and an object lesson in the perils of a block grant structure.
SNAP’s entitlement structure allows aid to get to the people who need it, as quickly as possible. It also pumps additional dollars into the economy by providing the means for people to purchase food through the local economy. As currently structured, NAP does not provide low-income residents with the ability to purchase adequate food even under normal circumstances. This is especially troubling given that more than 1 million people lived below poverty line before the 2017 hurricanes, including 56 percent of the Commonwealth’s children.
The Food Research & Action Center is the leading national nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States.