Washington – Federal lawmakers, island officials, and activists increased yesterday pressure on Congress to include Puerto Rico in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which could represent an increase of nearly $1.7 billion in food assistance annually.
More than 200 U.S. and Puerto Rican civic, agricultural, trade, business, government, and religious organizations and stakeholder groups released a joint statement in support of transitioning the island to SNAP.
“This is the time,” said Lillian Rodr?guez L?pez, spokesperson for the Coalition for Food Security Puerto Rico, noting that in recent years the message from Congress has been that the debate over a potential transition of the island from the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) to SNAP must be done through the Farm Bill reauthorization, this bill expires in September.
Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer Gonz?lez, led a press conference in front of the U.S. Capitol to release the joint statement.
Gillibrand, in the Senate, and Gonzalez, in the House, are the authors of the bill seeking to regulate that process.
Gillibrand noted that Congress should never have removed Puerto Rico’s access to SNAP and indicated that she is making her case before the Agriculture Committee, of which she is a member, to highlight this injustice that has lasted 40 years ago.
Commissioner Gonzalez, who caucuses with Republicans, said she has been meeting with members of the Agriculture Committee and that many are surprised that the island is not part of SNAP. “SNAP does not adapt to increases in demand and delays disaster response,” Gonzalez said.
Mari Jo Laborde, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Food Bank, noted that they have experienced a 40 percent increase in demand for food assistance. In Washington, the legislative initiative has the support of Senate Democratic Majority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.), six other senators who caucus with the Democrats, and a group of representatives. And in San Juan, Pedro Pierluisi, and the presidents of the Senate, Jos? Luis Dalmau, and the House of Representatives, Rafael “Tatito” Hern?ndez support the initiative.
“This bill provides a swift and long-overdue transition to SNAP for Puerto Rico, giving the island the tools it needs to fight food insecurity,” said Puerto Rican Democratic Congresswoman Nydia Vel?zquez (N.Y.). The transition to SNAP in Puerto Rico could take a decade, and represent an increase from the $2.815 billion the island now receives to $4.5 billion annually.
“The transition could be reduced. If it takes 10 years it would be a big loss for Puerto Rico’s beneficiaries. It would be at least $12 billion,” said Rodr?guez L?pez.
Some 1.4 million people in Puerto Rico receive PAN assistance, which – unlike SNAP, a program available in all states, Washington D.C., Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands – works as a block grant.
A few days ago, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center of Chicago sent a letter to Congress to request “the immediate retooling of Puerto Rico‘s Nutritional Assistance Program (PAN) so that at least half of the funds allocated to this program be directed to support the island’s local farmers and promote greater agricultural self-sufficiency.”
Although it may not have been their intention, Rodriguez Lopez said the Puerto Rican Cultural Center letter may have been interpreted as an initiative to transfer half of the PAN funds to farmers.
“I think it was not expressed the way they wanted. We support that farmers benefit more from SNAP…but not taking funds from the beneficiaries,” said the spokeswoman for the Coalition for Food Security, who added that SNAP has a cooperative program to buy from local farmers.
In the Senate, Leader Schumer, Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Robert Menendez (New Jersey), Cory Booker (New Jersey), Bernie Sanders (an independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), and John Fetterman (
Pennsylvania) introduced the measure along with Gillibrand, who seeks Republican support.
Meanwhile, in the House, six Democratic Representatives -Darren Soto (Florida Boricua and member of the Agriculture Committee); James McGovern (Massachusetts); Chrissy Houlahan (Pennsylvania); Haley Stevens (Michigan), Jill Tokuda (Hawaii); and Earl Blumenauer (Oregon)-, support Gonzalez’s bill.