November 02, 2020

Gillibrand Leads Colleagues In Calling On USDA To Fairly Implement P-EBT Program In Puerto Rico In Order To Provide Food Security

Senators to Secretary Perdue: USDA “Must Act Now”

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, led her colleagues in a letter urging Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, to “provide expeditious and fair implementation of the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) Program in Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories.” Since the signing of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) in March 2020, all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have had the choice to opt-in to the P-EBT Program. However, 300,000 eligible school-aged children in Puerto Rico were not afforded that option. Catastrophic circumstances due to the combined devastation of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, financial pressures, and the COVID-19 pandemic, have exacerbated food insecurity and an increased demand for nutrition aid. 

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) also signed the letter.

“As many families are still struggling with the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria and dozens of recent earthquakes, the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating an already struggling economy and population. We must equalize the disparity faced by children in Puerto Rico where families are already receiving, on average, 60 percent less in SNAP funding than their continental U.S. counterparts,” the senators wrote in the letter.

According to the Coalition for Food Security Puerto Rico, the current poverty rate in Puerto Rico is 43 percent. On average, the poverty rate for children in Puerto Rico is 57 percent versus 18 percent in the states. Over 83 percent of all children live in high-poverty areas versus 10 percent of children in the states. As a result of the pandemic, close to 39,000 more children enrolled in the federal Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP), exacerbating demands on the capped $1.9 billion block grant and limited nutrition funding provided in FFCRA and CARES Act. 

Read the letter here or below.

Dear Secretary Perdue, 

I write today to urge you to provide expeditious and fair implementation of the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) Program in Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories. I ask that you also provide swift guidance and communication to the states and territories on implementation of new P-EBT provisions included in the recently passed Continuing Resolution (P.L. 116-159). As you know, The Families First Coronavirus Act created the P-EBT program which provides nutritional resources to families with children who would receive free or reduced priced school meals, if not for school closure. Continuing Resolution (P.L. 116-159) extends the P-EBT program until September 30, 2021, and finally allows our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories to participate, while also expanding P-EBT coverage to young children in childcare, among other critical provisions to provide much needed nutrition assistance to Americans.

Since the signing of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) in March 2020, all 50 states plus the District of Colombia and the US Virgin Islands have had the option to opt-in to the P-EBT Program. However, our fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico were not afforded that option. Roughly 300,000 school aged children are eligible for P-EBT in Puerto Rico, but were unfairly denied when FFCRA was passed in March. With the financial and health distress experienced by families with children on the island, USDA must act quickly to approve P-EBT for Puerto Rico expeditiously and fairly, including the new provisions that were included in the Continuing Resolution (P.L. 116-159).  

Currently, the poverty rate in Puerto Rico is 43 percent. On average, the poverty rate for children in Puerto Rico is 57 percent versus 18 percent in the states. Over 83 percent of all children live in high-poverty areas vs. 10 percent of children in the states. [1]As a result of the pandemic, close to 39,000 more children enrolled in the federal Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP), exacerbating demands on the capped $1.9 billion block grant and limited nutrition funding provided in FFCRA and CARES Act. This combined funding did not meet the nutritional needs of school-age children entitled to free federal school lunch programs, creating higher food insecurity levels for them and their families. As many families are still struggling with the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria and dozens of recent earthquakes, the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating an already struggling economy and population. We must equalize the disparity faced by children in Puerto Rico where families are already receiving, on average, 60 percent less in SNAP funding than their continental U.S. counterparts.1

USDA must act now to support the futures of thousands of struggling families in Puerto Rico. As fellow Americans they are entitled to the same benefits the rest of our country receives. Thank you for your careful consideration of this request, and I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,