– Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR) announced the introduction of the bipartisan Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance Fairness Act. The landmark legislation would address inequalities in food assistance to Puerto Ricans and would enable Puerto Rico to fully participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP. Puerto Rico was excluded from SNAP in 1981, which has resulted in the loss of billions of dollars in aid and reduced nutrition benefits; the transition resulted in an immediate 25% reduction in nutrition aid. The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), John Fetterman (D-PA), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Del. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS-At Large), Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA-6), Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA-2), Del. James Moylan (R-GU-At Large), Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL-9), Rep. Maria Salazar (R-FL-27), Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI-11).
The federal lawmakers were joined at a press conference announcing the bill by Speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives Rafael Hernández Montañez and Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration Executive Director Luis D. Dávila.
“For more than forty years, Puerto Rico has been unfairly excluded from SNAP, which has resulted in billions of dollars in lost aid and reduced nutrition benefits for more than one million of Puerto Ricans,” said Senator Gillibrand, member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “The bipartisan Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance Fairness Act would correct this injustice and enable Puerto Ricans to participate in SNAP, as well as to receive Disaster SNAP in the wake of natural disasters or emergencies. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I am focused on including this critical legislation in this year’s Farm Bill and I’m optimistic that we’ll get this done.”
“Puerto Ricans are American citizens, not second-class citizens. I’m proud to cosponsor this bipartisan bill, and I thank Senator Gillibrand for leading this effort once again,” said Senate Majority Leader Schumer. “Along with my colleagues, I’m committed to right past wrongs by enabling Puerto Rico to fully participate in SNAP and ensuring the people of Puerto Rico have the access to federal resources that they deserve.”
“Nutrition assistance programs, particularly SNAP, are essential to support the health and well-being of millions of people across the United States. Unfortunately, the American citizens living in Puerto Rico, do not have access to this federal program. In turn, we have a block grant that limits the assistance that can be provided to a beneficiary. This program also cannot accommodate sudden increases in demand during natural disasters or emergency situations, when vulnerable populations need it the most. Having to get Congress approve supplemental dollars is not a reliable mechanism when you are experiencing an emergency in real time. For that reason, I have filed legislation that seeks to transition Puerto Rico from NAP to SNAP. I thank Senator Gillibrand for filing the companion legislation and look forward to continue working together, alongside my colleagues in the House, to secure access to this program in Puerto Rico,” said Congresswoman González-Colón.
“The people of Puerto Rico deserve access to full SNAP benefits – just like the rest of their fellow Americans,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Our legislation addresses the historic inequities that prevent those on the island from putting food on the table and feeding their families. Fixing this discriminatory practice is long overdue. It’s time to ensure our nation’s nutrition aid is available to all who need it.”
Puerto Rico Speaker of the House Rafael Hernández Montañez commended Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón for their ongoing leadership to increasing nutritional assistance in Puerto Rico. “As American citizens Puerto Ricans deserve the full benefits under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). For over 40 years Puerto Rico has been underfunded in this essential program. The time has come to provide equity through the inclusion of the Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance Fairness Act of 2023 in the reauthorization of the Farm Bill. Members of Congress should be aware that we are working through the budgetary process in Puerto Rico to prepare necessary local resources to realize the orderly transition from the Nutritional Assistance Program to the equitable treatment under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. SNAP in Puerto Rico will encourage workforce participation and reward workers and their families, and supplement wellness and have a multiplier economic benefit as Puerto Rico emerges from recovery to sustainable growth. This is another steppingstone for Puerto Rico, and we are committed to implementing SNAP in Puerto Rico and appreciate the support in evidence here today led by Senator Gillibrand, Resident Commissioner González Colón and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez.”
“When Puerto Ricans advocate for the transition to SNAP, we’re not merely talking about being included under another federal program,” said Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration Executive Director Luis D. Dávila. “We’re talking about the opportunity for children to have food on their table and for families not to wonder where their next meal will come from. The Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance Fairness Act seeks to ensure every American citizen on the Island receives the same level of support as their fellow American citizens on the mainland.”
“Puerto Rican children and families continue to experience food insecurity and inequity because of their exclusion from SNAP, which is fully available to residents living in all 50 states and other territories. Congress must stop this systemic injustice that puts so many low-income Puerto Ricans in a vulnerable state, living day by day without meeting their basic food needs,” affirmed Frankie Miranda, President and CEO of Hispanic Federation. “I congratulate Senator Gillibrand for introducing this important bill and providing a great opportunity for Congress to take action for Puerto Rico and ensure a smooth transition from NAP to SNAP in the archipelago.”
“We applaud Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. González-Colon for introducing the Puerto Rico Nutrition Fairness Act. This is a critical step in ensuring the people of Puerto Rico have equitable access to SNAP,” said Luis Guardia, President, Food Research & Action Center.
Currently, U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico participate in the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP), a capped block grant that is not needs-based or reactive to increased participation. This has led to lower nutrition benefits for residents of Puerto Rico than for residents of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Furthermore, the NAP block grant has no equivalent to Disaster SNAP, meaning that Puerto Rican disasters or emergencies require separate, new appropriations from Congress which can take months. There are currently approximately 1.4 million NAP participants.
The Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance Fairness Act would establish a process to transition Puerto Rico from NAP to SNAP. Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, plans to include the bill in the 2023 Farm Bill.
Additionally, Gillibrand is also leading the effort to pass the Closing the Meal Gap, which would revise the requirements for calculating SNAP benefits
, and would also allow Puerto Rico to participate in SNAP.