The Puerto Rico Restaurant Association balked at the the Family Department’s Socioeconomic Development Administration’s decision to nix the “Buen Provecho” initiative that for the past 29 months allowed the elderly, homeless and handicapped persons to use their nutritional assistance funds to buy prepared fast-food meals.
“The cancellation of ‘Buen Provecho’ came as a surprise to the 45 participating restaurants as well as to the tens of thousands of beneficiaries of the project, mostly homeless, elderly and people with disabilities who can not fend for themselves. It is an act of social injustice,” said Carlos Morell, president of ASORE, as the trade group is known for its initials in Spanish.
In a letter sent to ASORE, Marta Elsa Fernández, administrator of ADSEF, as the government agency is known, explained that the pilot program launched under the former Gov. Luis Fortuño administration, had been canceled because it had been “unsuccessful,” supporting her decision with data and poor results from evaluations by the Food and Nutrition Services.
The ASORE executive said ADSEF did not reveal the results of the evaluation “despite having a close relationship with us.”
“The content of that report is substantially important because ADSEF’s evaluations were excellent,” Morell said.
The pilot program launched in October 2010 includes establishments in San Juan and Guaynabo, but the Family Department had hinted at the possibility of expanding it to the 78 municipalities. Since its inception, the “Buen Provecho” program was involved in a controversy brought forth by the Alliance for Adequate Nutrition, which supported its claim that it would be a mistake to expand its scope to the rest of the island.
Puerto Rico receives some $2 billion a year from the U.S. government for the Nutritional Assistance program, of which 25 percent can be withdrawn as cash. The remainder must be used to buy food at supermarkets or — until its cancellation — at approved fast-food restaurants participating in “Buen Provecho.”
Upon learning of the cancellation, ASORE sent letters to Fernández, Puerto Rico Trade Executive Director Francisco Chévere and Gov. Alejandro García-Padilla addressing their commitment to create jobs in the restaurant sector.
“The cancellation of the program puts at risk our serious and genuine interest to create jobs,” according to the letter sent to Chévere.
Now that fast-food restaurants are no longer an option, ADSEF is apparently considering allowing those who benefited from “Buen Provecho” to purchase prepared foods at grocery stores.
“The fact that a person can buy a chicken breast with salad prepared at a grocery store but not in a restaurant is an arbitrary, confusing and discriminatory approach. There is no clear explanation as to why it can be done at a grocery store and not at a restaurant,” said Morell.