Congress may boost Puerto Rico food assistance under plan backed by NY senators Gillibrand and Schumer

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill introduced a bill on Wednesday to level the scales for Puerto Rico, stating that Americans in need of food shouldn’t receive significantly less aid than other citizens solely because of their location.

Typically, lower-income Americans receive food assistance from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

However, Puerto Rico was excluded from this system – previously known as food stamps – in 1981. Instead, Congress gave the territory a smaller block grant that could not cover as many people as SNAP does and imposed severe restrictions on access.

Consequently, a family of four with low income in Puerto Rico receives approximately $551 in food aid per month, which is equivalent to the amount that a two-person family on SNAP receives on the mainland.

The Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance Fairness Act, introduced on Wednesday, would raise that family of four’s assistance to $939 per month, according to the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

“These are our brothers, our sisters — American citizens who deserve this fundamental benefit,” Gillibrand said. “A lot of Puerto Ricans can’t feed their families. They can’t feed their children, and they need help.”

There is bipartisan support for the Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance Fairness Act, and its best chance of passing is likely by being included in this year’s renewal of the farm bill, which includes funding for the Department of Agriculture’s SNAP program, according to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also supports the effort and believes it is a matter of fairness.

“It’s time for the block grant system to go, plain and simple, because it discriminates against Puerto Rico,” Schumer said. “If any other state had a block grant, they’d be screaming about it, saying it’s not fair. It should be based on the number of people who need help.”

Puerto Rico has faced a continuous series of natural disasters in recent years, including hurricanes and the pandemic, which has further complicated the situation.

As Puerto Rico receives a block grant, it cannot easily adjust to meet the increasing demand for assistance and must rely on Congress to provide additional funding.

“This can take months,” said Gillibrand. “Can you imagine to have to wait for Congress for your next meal? Can you imagine surviving a hurricane, having your home destroyed, having your loved ones injured or killed, and then after all that, you still don’t have enough food to eat? It’s absurd.”