Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi submitted Wednesday HR 4280, known as the “Puerto Rico Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Restoration Act,” which would provide the island with $457 million in additional federal funding each year to support its food assistance program for low-income individuals.
If this bill is enacted into law, Puerto Rico would join the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two territories — Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands — as jurisdictions that participate fully in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
In a statement delivered on the House floor, Pierluisi explained that, in 1971, Congress enacted legislation to partially include Puerto Rico in what is today called SNAP and what was then called the Food Stamp Program.
Implementation of the Food Stamp Program in Puerto Rico began in 1974 and three years later, Congress amended federal law to fully include Puerto Rico in the Food Stamp Program, so that the rules governing eligibility and benefits applied no differently on the island than they did in the 50 states.
In 1981, Congress overhauled its decision, removing Puerto Rico from the Food Stamp Program, electing to provide the island government with an annual block grant instead. Since 1982, Puerto Rico has used this block grant to administer its Nutrition Assistance Program, known as PAN, which differs from SNAP in a number of material respects.
The bill that Pierluisi introduced Wednesday would reinstate the SNAP program in Puerto Rico in place of the block grant.
“My decision to file legislation converting Puerto Rico back to SNAP was made after carefully weighing the benefits and costs associated with conversion,” he said. “I relied primarily upon an in-depth study prepared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which evaluated the feasibility and impact of reinstating SNAP in Puerto Rico.”
“This study was required by a provision in the 2008 Farm Bill, which was included due to the efforts of then-Resident Commissioner, and now-Governor, Luis Fortuño,” said Pierluisi.
“The USDA report is comprehensive and raises a number of important policy questions, but its bottom-line message for Puerto Rico is crystal clear: namely, while there are some trade-offs associated with conversion to SNAP, the benefits of conversion far outweigh the costs,” Pierluisi added.
Change would bring greater benefits
According to the USDA report, conversion to SNAP would increase the number of households that receive nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico by more than 15 percent. An additional 85,000 households — consisting of 220,000 individuals —would become eligible for assistance under SNAP.
Moreover, restoring SNAP would raise the average monthly benefit for participating households by nearly 10 percent, or $23. The Resident Commissioner further explained that “instituting equal treatment for Puerto Rico under SNAP would mean an additional $457 million dollars in federal funding for the Island each year, over 90 percent of which would take the form of additional benefits for households.”
“These numbers show that since Congress removed Puerto Rico from SNAP 20 years ago, hundreds of thousands of needy children, families and seniors on the island have received no nutrition assistance at all or have received far fewer benefits than they would have received if they lived in the 50 states or even the neighboring USVI,” he said.
Pierluisi’s congressional move already has the support of the the Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry & Distribution, known as MIDA, which approved a resolution last year in support of converting Puerto Rico back to SNAP.