FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 3, 2021

Fernanda Durand

Increase in Federal Food Stamp Program Is Overdue

Yesterday, a group of 90 organizations wrote to Congress asking for an end to discrimination in benefits against Puerto Rico

WASHINGTON – Hispanic Federation, the Coalition for Food Security Puerto Rico, and several ally organizations urge Congress to end discrimination against Puerto Rico and the territories when providing federal nutrition assistance for low-income families. In letters sent to the House of Representatives and the Senate Thursday, advocates requested Congress to take action to provide equitable funding for the 1.6 million Americans in Puerto Rico experiencing food insecurity.

Last month, the Biden administration approved the largest increase to food assistance benefits in the history of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but those improvements for Puerto Rico and other territories did not go far enough. Hispanic Federation applauds this change as a step towards providing basic nutrition and addressing food insecurity but urges Congress and the administration to prioritize equitable benefits for all Americans no matter where they live.

“Children can’t learn on an empty stomach, and those who experience food insecurity face consequences for their health, well-being, and development. Under the new plan, an additional $463.8 million will be allocated to Puerto Rico’s nutrition program (NAP), bringing the overall block grant to $2.5 billion. While this is indeed welcome news, it still does not bring nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico to the same level as nutrition assistance in the 50 states or other territories like Guam. Puerto Rico benefits will continue to be 25-30 percent lower than SNAP benefits provided in the mainland U.S. states. It is time to end discrimination against those who live and work in U.S. territories by creating a path to transition them out of capped block grants and into SNAP. We must do away with discrimination based on residency and put the interests of children and families first,” said Frankie Miranda, President and CEO of Hispanic Federation.

“Recent court decisions found that treating Puerto Rico differently for the purpose of determining federal benefits is unconstitutional and discriminatory. Hispanic Federation will continue to work until full parity is achieved in all federal entitlement programs like SNAP, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and until other programs intended to alleviate poverty like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) are available equitably to those that live in the territories. We will continue to encourage Congress to pass the Territorial Equity Act of 2021 and demand the Biden administration stop arguing in courts that discriminating against Puerto Ricans is the right thing to do. The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased food insecurity. Congress and the President must both take steps to put an end to this type of discrimination based on geographic location,” added Laura M. Esquivel, Vice President of Federal Policy and Advocacy at Hispanic Federation.

“It has been 40 years since Puerto Rico was excluded from SNAP and provided with a reduced, capped block grant for nutrition aid. We applaud the changes to the Thrifty Food Plan by the USDA, which increases benefits for all families and individuals in the states and territories. However, keeping American citizens who reside in Puerto Rico out of SNAP and subjecting them to a lower level of nutrition aid is an issue of inequity and injustice to needy children, the elderly, and working families on the island. It is time for Congress to act on the promise of federal benefits parity for Puerto Rico,” said Lillian Rodriguez Lopez, Director , Coalition for Food Security - Puerto Rico.

The Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), developed in the 1930s during the Great Depression, is used by USDA to calculate SNAP benefits, which have long been thought to be wildly inadequate to meet basic nutrition needs. With the recalculation of the TFP, the maximum SNAP benefit will now rise by 21 percent (plus inflation), with the average benefit rising by about $1.20 per person per day, according to USDA. However, residents of Puerto Rico and other territories will not receive the same level of nutrition support due to their exclusion from SNAP benefits. Unlike SNAP, Puerto Rico’s block grant is capped at a set amount each year and does not automatically increase in times of great need, forcing territorial residents to wait in hunger when emergencies strike, and needs become even greater. For almost 30 years, the U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico have been excluded from SNAP and instead have been limited to capped, block grant nutrition assistance programs exacerbating food insecurity.