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Fighting for Puerto Rico…Still

After the hurricane, came the storm. At least that’s the way it felt in Puerto Rico last November when President Trump stated that he didn’t want a penny more of disaster funds to go to Puerto Rico. Since then, Hispanic Federation helped to uncover and expose the fact that his administration seems to have actively worked to prevent any federal disaster funds from getting to the island. Indeed, since the end of 2018 just $1.5 billion out of the more than $30 billion in federal funds allocated to the island by Congress have reached the island. Hispanic Federation is working to encourage Congress to investigate whether the Trump administration has violated the law by blocking funds appropriated by Congress from reaching their intended targets.

But blocking federal funds from reaching the island is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to President Trump’s attacks on Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico will exhaust its current Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP) disaster-level appropriation in March. An additional $600 million is needed to provide adequate resources for nutritional benefits for low-income, eligible Puerto Ricans through the end of the current fiscal year – benefits on par with their fellow American citizens in all 50 states.

NAP was created by Congress as a separate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for Puerto Rico. However, unlike SNAP, which is a vital nutritional program available in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. and provides benefits to anyone who meets eligibility requirements, NAP is provided via a block-grant, with a finite appropriation, and is not based on need. Therefore, while victims of hurricanes in Louisiana, Texas, Florida and other states, (and other eligible, low-income families), can receive SNAP benefits for as long as they meet eligibility requirements, in Puerto Rico, those eligible for NAP can be cut off once the money runs out. It is projected that those benefits, which have been expanded to 200,000 new individuals post-Maria, will face a cliff on March 31st leaving the Puerto Rican government with some tough choices about which families will, and will not, continue to receive food assistance.

Incredibly, President Trump specifically blocked the $600 million for NAP for Puerto Rico. Hispanic Federation has been at the forefront of advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill to secure disaster-level NAP funding for FY ‘19.

“We know how vital NAP funding is to Puerto Rican families,” said Hispanic Federation’s National Director of Advocacy Laura Esquivel. “The administration went out of its way to punish people on the island by blocking the NAP allocation. We are working with a broad cross-section of groups to bring attention to the impending food security crisis facing the island if the NAP expires at the end of the month.”

The fight over releasing Puerto Rico federal disaster relief funds and preserving NAP are just two examples of how Hispanic Federation’s DC office continues to be recognized and sought after by congressional offices for both subject-matter and strategic expertise and consultation on Puerto Rico.

“The fact is that we have become a valuable partner and source of information on Puerto Rico in Washington,” Esquivel said. “Our partnerships with the people on the island—the people doing the hard work of rebuilding Puerto Rico—give us valuable insights that we share with Congress. We’ll continue to do that in order to make sure that the island and its people get what they need and deserve to get back on their feet.”