U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced her push for $1 billion in critical supplemental nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico in the final FY22 appropriations package. Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Puerto Rico has experienced high unemployment and, combined with the impact of COVID-19, individuals and families faced heightened levels of food insecurity. While Americans living in Puerto Rico have access to the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP), they do not have access to the same federal assistance to combat food insecurity that is available to individuals in the continental United States, further exacerbating a hunger crisis compounded by the economic crisis, hurricane devastation, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Gillibrand previously helped pass funds in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) that allowed Puerto Rico to supplement the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) block grant funding, but the additional funding that was granted through ARP will be expended by June 2022. This additional $1 billion in NAP funding would target the long-term recovery needed for communities in Puerto Rico by making funds available through September 30, 2023. Congresswoman Velázquez (D-NY-7) is leading this effort in the House of Representatives.
“Far too many of our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico are facing hunger due to the pandemic’s devastating impact on supply chains and Puerto Rico’s economy. To meet the moment, we must allocate meaningful federal relief for families struggling to keep themselves healthy and fed,” said Senator Gillibrand. “That’s why I am fighting alongside Congresswoman Velázquez to secure $1 billion in supplemental funding to help ensure that Puerto Rico has the long-term resources needed to tackle food insecurity across the Island. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to deliver critical food assistance for our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.”
“Over the past few years, Puerto Ricans have been hit with one life-altering crisis after another from deadly hurricanes to the health and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Representative Velázquez. “This reality makes it even more indefensible that they continue to be excluded from receiving SNAP benefits. In light of this, we must do everything possible to ensure funds for nutritional assistance on the island are robust and sufficient to meet the urgent and sweeping need. That’s why as Congress begins its annual appropriations season, Senator Gillibrand and I are requesting $1 billion in supplemental nutritional assistance for Puerto Rico. We cannot turn our backs on those in need.”
“We are greatly appreciative to the members of Congress for advocating for an addition $1 billion in nutritional aid for Puerto Rico to address the underlying and systemic benefits disparity between the island, the states and other territories. It is unacceptable to keep Puerto Rico from transitioning into SNAP and to continue to discriminate against Americans living on the island by perpetuating a three tier system of nutrition aid.” said Lillian Rodriguez Lopez, Coalition for Food Security Puerto Rico.
The current poverty rate in Puerto Rico is 43.5%, and even before the pandemic, 50% of families with children earning $15,000 or less reported challenges accessing food. According to the Kids Count Puerto Rico Profile, almost 6 out of every 10 children in Puerto Rico live in poverty. As a result of the pandemic, roughly 250,000 more people have enrolled in the federal Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP), exacerbating demands on the capped block grant and limited nutrition funding provided in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and CARES Act.
Senator Gillibrand introduced the Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2021 along with Senators Sanders, Booker, Padilla, and Warren, which would increase the baseline for SNAP benefits by approximately 30% to better align with household needs and allow Puerto Rico to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Currently, Puerto Rico residents do not have access to SNAP benefits. In March 2021, Gillibrand also helped push for an additional $966M in nutrition aid to Puerto Rico in the American Rescue Plan. Gillibrand also helped secure the inclusion of $614 million in the FY 21 government spending package, which provided increased food aid to Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa.
Read the full letter here and below.
Dear Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Shelby, Chairman DeLauro, Ranking Member Granger,
We are writing to request an additional $1 billion in nutrition assistance in the Fiscal Year 2022 final appropriations package to support nutrition benefits for the residents of Puerto Rico, and ask that the funds be available until September 30, 2023. We are committed to the long-term recovery of Puerto Rico and to supporting critical initiatives and services on the Island. Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, Puerto Rico experienced high unemployment and, combined with the impact of COVID-19, individuals and families faced heightened and unprecedented levels of food insecurity. Since 2020, both the local and global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have increased the cost of groceries and other goods for individuals and families in Puerto Rico. Since Puerto Rico imports more than 75 percent of its food supply from the states, the supply chain crisis affecting global and United States manufacturing, distribution, and agricultural sectors has exacerbated nutrition challenges that Puerto Ricans faced before the pandemic.
U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico are excluded from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which prevents them from receiving the same nutrition assistance provided to other low-income Americans, increasing food insecurity during times of great need. In 1981, the United States legislated Puerto Rico’s participation in the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) through a capped block grant that does not fluctuate or respond to need. While the recent change to the USDA Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) increased the Puerto Rico nutrition block grant, it still did not create parity with the states or other territories like Guam or the U.S Virgin Islands (USVI) who participate in SNAP. The NAP block grant is not need-based and, under the new TFP guidelines, Puerto Rico benefit levels continue to be significantly lower than SNAP benefits provided in the fifty states, Guam, and USVI.
The primary recipients of NAP benefits in Puerto Rico are children (22 percent), the elderly (26 percent), and the disabled (6 percent) – highly vulnerable populations. Since March 2020, the onset of the pandemic, Puerto Rico has experienced an increase of 250,000 NAP beneficiaries. In February 2021, Congress enacted the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which allocated an additional $966M in nutrition aid to Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s federal block grant currently stands at $2.5 billion given the recent adjustments to the Thrifty Food Plan in October 2021, which added $463M to the capped block grant. The ARPA funds have allowed Puerto Rico to supplement the current block grant of $2.5B, but the additional funding will be expended by June 2022. Even with both the NAP block grant and ARPA funding, Puerto Rico provides maximum monthly household benefits that are on average 22.5 percent lower than those in the continental United States and the District of Columbia. Without an additional $1 billion in NAP funding, the projected disparity between the maximum SNAP benefits in the continental United States and the District of Columbia versus Puerto Rico NAP benefits increases to 44 percent. The gap in the maximum benefits is more significant when comparing Puerto Rico’s benefits to those in the United States Virgin Islands and Guam. In USVI, the current maximum monthly benefits are 39 percent higher, and in Guam, the benefits are 46 percent higher than in Puerto Rico.
Under SNAP, a single-person household can receive a maximum benefit of $250 per month, while in Puerto Rico, the same household maximum benefit would be $140 under NAP starting in July 2022. To avoid drastic benefit losses for its citizens, $1 billion in additional NAP funding is needed to supplement the block grant. With the additional funds, the Puerto Rico government could extend the current level of household benefits through September 2023. Therefore, we ask for this funding in any FY22 final funding package.
As Americans living in Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans deserve urgent and equitable funding and should not be subject to fewer benefits solely based on residency. With rising food insecurity and the lack of funding parity, we must act now to prevent a benefits cliff for Americans residing on the Island.