CHN: Puerto Rico to Lose Food Aid without Quick Congressional Action

Advocates’ concerns are rising about the impending need for food aid in Puerto Rico. Funding for Puerto Rico’s Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP), the island’s version of SNAP/food stamps, was temporarily increased following hurricanes Irma and Maria, but without action by Congress, some 1.4 million Puerto Rican people (who are U.S. citizens) will lose some or all food assistance beginning in March when the additional funding runs out. An additional $600 million is needed to sustain the additional assistance for the rest of the fiscal year. Unlike the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the more responsive nutrition program for states and other territories such as Guam, Puerto Rico’s NAP is a fixed block grant that can only increase to meet need if Congress appropriates additional funds.

On Feb. 26, Sens. David Perdue (R-GA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) introduced a disaster aid package (S. 572) that would provide $610 million for Puerto Rico’s NAP benefits, along with other aid for victims of other natural disasters across several states and territories in 2018. While advocates believe this is a positive step, they are concerned that senators will not act on the measure before they leave for their March recess, therefore not in time to prevent the loss of aid for people living on the island. Puerto Rico has not fully recovered from hurricane Maria, and 44 percent of its people live below the poverty line. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has not yet scheduled floor time for the bill.

As reported in the Feb. 14 Human Needs Report, a disaster aid package was included in the FY19 spending bill (H.R. 268) passed by the House. However, it was not included in the final FY19 spending bill passed by Congress earlier in February because President Trump opposed the food aid and other assistance for Puerto Rico. It has been reported that President Trump supports the new Senate bill.