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Congress to Mull Whether Puerto Ricans Are Allowed Same Food Assistance as USVI Residents

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Puerto Rico residents could potentially access benefits under the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) alongside their fellow territorial residents in Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, pending approval from the U.S. Congress.

Delegate to Congress Jenniffer González-Colón introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives earlier this year, and last week Senator Kirstin Gillibrand reintroduced the legislation she had proposed during the previous session of Congress. The Puerto Rican Nutrition Assistance Fairness Act aims to reverse the 1982 decision that replaced SNAP in Puerto Rico with a territory-specific Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP). NAP, a federal block grant, has a limited pool of funds for recipients each year.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized the unfair treatment of Puerto Rico, stating that the limited funds for nutrition assistance made it difficult for Puerto Rican families to provide food for their loved ones. In contrast, the Food Stamp Program, now called SNAP, was designed to provide assistance to everyone who met the qualification criteria.

Schumer argued that access to SNAP would be essential for Puerto Rico’s recovery, given the economic impacts of Hurricane Fiona in 2022, hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, and the pandemic in between. While the Fairness Act makes its way through the legislative process, Senator Gillibrand mentioned that potential users might not have to wait. She has requested an additional $1 billion for the NAP block grant to ensure Puerto Ricans have food assistance until the bill passes.

In the USVI, pandemic-induced emergency SNAP allotments ended on Feb. 28. The V.I. Dept. of Human Services announced that due to the 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act passed by Congress on December 29, 2022, the U.S. Virgin Islands is required to phase out the emergency SNAP benefits households have been receiving since March of 2020 — the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Normal SNAP benefits resumed in March.

The passage of the Puerto Rican Nutrition Assistance Fairness Act would provide much-needed support for struggling families in Puerto Rico, putting them on equal footing with residents in other U.S. territories such as the USVI and Guam. As the bill progresses through the legislative process, it remains to be seen whether Congress will approve the expansion of SNAP benefits to Puerto Rico, ultimately helping to address food insecurity and contribute to the territory’s overall recovery.

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