Congressmen seek to reinstate SNAP in Puerto Rico

Congressman Charles B. Rangel joined Resident Commissioner Pedro R. Pierluisi (Puerto Rico) and Colleagues in introducing legislation today to reinstate the SNAP (formerly the ‘food stamp’) program in Puerto Rico. H.R. 4280, the Puerto Rico Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Restoration Act, would provide the Island with $457 million in additional federal funding each year to support its food assistance program for low-income individuals.

“Puerto Rico deserves the same food assistance as the rest of the country,” said Rangel. “Our Manhattan Congressional District has many citizens of Puerto Rican descent whose families desperately need our help to meet basic nutritional standards.”

Presently, Puerto Rico receives from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) an annual block grant that is appropriated by Congress in lieu of SNAP.  This block grant limits the amount of assistance available to Puerto Rico’s indigent population in terms of their ability to afford healthy food.

If this bill is enacted into law, Puerto Rico would join the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two territories—Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands—as jurisdictions that participate fully in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

According to a USDA report, conversion to SNAP would increase the number of households that receive nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico by an additional 85,000 households—consisting of 220,000 individuals. It would also mean an additional $457 million dollars in federal funding for the Island each year.”

“The USDA report confirms that the decision to deprive Puerto Rico of SNAP funds twenty years ago also deprived over 200,000 Puerto Ricans who are in most need of food assistance,” said Rangel. “Meanwhile, the 50 states, Washington, D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam all enjoy access to vital SNAP funds.  This is an inequity that makes no moral sense. The people of Puerto Rico deserve to receive the same financial aid necessary to meet high-quality nutritional standards.”

KEY FACTS REGARDING SNAP IMPLEMENTATION IN PUERTO RICO

  • From FY1974 through FY1982, Puerto Rico participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—then known as the “food stamp program”—along with, and no differently than, each of the 50 States and D.C.  Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands were each added to SNAP by Congress in 1971.  Although Puerto Rico was later dropped from the program, SNAP coverages continue today in Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • In 1981, Congress replaced SNAP in Puerto Rico with an $825 million block grant—appropriated each year as the “Nutrition Assistance Program” block grant for Puerto Rico.  That level of funding represented about 75% of SNAP expenditures in Puerto Rico at that time (which was $1.1 million in FY1982). As a result, the block grant has not adjusted annually to account for changes in economic need or population in Puerto Rico or to keep adequate pace with costs for obtaining a basic, daily nutritional diet on the Island.  The vulnerable U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico are treated differently when it comes to federal nutrition assistance than if there they were living in one of the 50 States, D.C., Guam or the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands.  In 1986, Congress amended the law to index the annual amount for the Puerto Rico block grant going forward for inflation but it is still indexed on an arbitrary base amount.
  • In the 2008 Farm Bill Congress directed USDA to examine the feasibility and effects of restoring SNAP in Puerto Rico in lieu of continuing the block grant arrangement (Sec. 4142 of P.L. 110-246).
  • USDA submitted the required report to Congress in June 2010.  Among the findings about transiting from a block grant to SNAP in Puerto Rico, are—
  • 85,000 additional households in need would receive assistance that they are unable to receive now under the block grant (a 15% participation increase); and
  • Average monthly benefits in Puerto Rico would increase by about 10% or $23 per household narrowing the gap between average benefit amounts received in the rest of the U.S. under SNAP and the amounts currently received under the limited block grant applying to Puerto Rico.

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