The controversy over whether Nutritional Assistance Program benefits should be expanded to include more fast-food restaurants escalated another notch Thursday when the Alliance for Adequate Nutrition supported its claim that it would be a mistake to do so by citing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent opposition to the proposal.
In a statement issued Thursday, Alliance Spokeswoman Ada Laureano took direct aim at the Puerto Rico Restaurant Association’s argument presented earlier this week that by including more fast-food restaurant options, more elderly and homeless people would have a better chance of getting a hot meal.
“The stateside press recently revealed that the USDA is opposed to using the NAP program in fast-foods and the deputy secretary in charge of the Food and Nutrition Service, Kevin Concannon, urged states not to give these programs the green light,” she said.
“Despite this, the Restaurant Association stated the industry was committed to the program’s expansion that allows using the NPA benefit in fast-food establishments, even though the government-sponsored program has failed,” she said.
About five weeks ago, the Alliance urged the FNS to reject extending the program launched by the Family Department and known as “Buen Provecho,” and eliminate what she called a “mistake” that goes against a sensitive population.
Meanwhile, Humberto Rovira, head of the restaurant trade group known as ASORE, said Wednesday expanding “Buen Provecho” could benefit other retailers aside from the chain restaurants, namely bakeries, cafeterias and small businesses that make and deliver prepared foods.
At present, the “Buen Provecho” program allows 30,000 NAP beneficiaries — elderly, handicapped and homeless people — to buy prepared foods with the card. The pilot program launched in October 2010 includes some establishments in San Juan and Guaynabo, but the Family Department has hinted at the possibility of expanding it to the 78 municipalities.
“In Puerto Rico there is a reality, thousands of people can not eat cooked food because they lack a place to prepare it or are not physically able to cook. It is a fact that we must address and this program gives them the opportunity to eat a hot meal,” said Rovira.
ASORE groups more than 125 local independent and chain-restaurant corporations, which operate a combined 1,000 establishments islandwide. The list includes KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell establishments owned by YUM Brands, the company Rovira heads in Puerto Rico.
Just recently, stateside YUM Brands executive confirmed they would desist from their intention to increase the use of NAP funds in its restaurants
Puerto Rico receives some $2 billion a year from the U.S. government for the NAP program, of which 25 percent can be withdrawn as cash. The remainder must be used to buy food at supermarkets or at approved fast-food restaurants.