TALLAHASSEE, Florida — In January 2023, a bill was introduced to the House of Representatives that would allow Puerto Rico to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Although Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, it is not always eligible for American assistance programs. Currently, every state receives SNAP funding while Puerto only receives a block grant to fund its nutritional assistance program. Allowing Puerto Rico access to this program will likely have a massive effect on their citizens living in poverty, which as of 2023 is around 43%.
This bill is called the “Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance Fairness Act.” If this bill is passed, it will modify the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 by inserting Puerto Rico. Once the bill is passed, Puerto Rico will have to create a state agency and submit a plan of operation to the Secretary of Agriculture within 60 days. During that 60-day period, the Secretary will provide training and technical assistance with creating their plan of operation. If the plan is approved, the Secretary will submit a certification to Congress that qualifies Puerto Rico to participate in SNAP.
To transition away from the current block grant, Puerto Rico will continue to receive it for the next five years or until the Secretary decides they no longer need it. For each of those years, the Secretary will submit a report to Congress with information related to increasing funding to help with the transition. The Food and Nutrition Act will be amended to account for this.
This act will take effect the day it is passed. The amendments will occur on October 1 the next fiscal year after the Secretary submits the certification.
Poverty in Puerto Rico
There are many theories on why poverty in Puerto Rico is such a large issue. According to Amelia Ward, one of them is how vulnerable it is to climate disasters.
Ward writes via Story Maps, “Hurricane Maria, the most recent natural disaster, is seen to be the most devastating climate event in Puerto Rican history and effectively demonstrates the spatial inequality, as the poorest residents are at a much higher disadvantage, as they have less access to resources to rebuild their lives (Water Environment Federation 2021).”
Ward also claims that these climate disasters are connected to Puerto Ricos’ education being low as well.
S.N.A.P and Poverty
According to the Census Bureau, SNAP lifted over three million people out of poverty in 2018.
Liana Fox and Laryssa Mykta write, “As one of the largest noncash anti-poverty programs in the United States, SNAP plays a crucial role in providing nutritional assistance to some of the most vulnerable members of society.”
If this bill is passed, it will help with poverty in Puerto Rico by allowing citizens to spend more of their budgets on other needs like housing and medical care.
– Brianna Leonard