Democrats push for Puerto Rico’s SNAP inclusion amidst Republican resistance

The inclusion of Puerto Rico in SNAP has the support of President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), and other Democratic officials. (Image via Shutterstock).

By Mivette Vega

May 3, 2024

Inclusion in SNAP could increase food assistance to Puerto Rico from $2.9 billion to $4.5 billion per year and help reduce poverty and food insecurity.

In a significant development that could bring much-needed relief to low-income families in Puerto Rico, the Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), has announced that she has included language in her draft farm bill that would open the door to including Puerto Rico in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Many in Puerto Rico have been advocating for SNAP inclusion for decades. The current food assistance program in Puerto Rico, the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP), benefits nearly 1.4 million people on the island and is a block grant program that provides less funding and stricter eligibility requirements than SNAP. As a result, many low-income families in Puerto Rico do not qualify for assistance or receive less assistance than they would under SNAP.

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The inclusion of Puerto Rico in SNAP has the support of President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), and other Democratic officials. However, it is likely to face opposition from Republicans in the Senate and the House of Representatives. In the Senate, which is divided 51-49, 60 votes are typically required to advance legislation.

The proposal from Senator Stabenow would provide funding for the transition process, which could take up to a decade. It would also require a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the adequacy of food assistance programs in the territories compared to the states, including data on the cost of food.

Inclusion in SNAP could have a significant positive impact on Puerto Rico. It is estimated that it could increase food assistance to the island from $2.9 billion to $4.5 billion per year. It could also help reduce poverty and food insecurity.

The next step is for the Senate Agriculture Committee to consider the farm bill. If the committee approves it, the bill will then move to the full Senate for a vote. If the bill is passed by the Senate, it will then go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Governor Pedro Pierluisi is closely following the development of the bill and has been in communication with several Democratic officials, like Schumer.

“I appreciate the support and multisectoral management that has been part of our efforts to communicate to Congress the urgency of this transition to provide social justice to the most vulnerable populations on the Island,”Pierluisi wrote on X.

A group of Democrats wants to present the United States Secretary of Agriculture with a five-year transition plan to SNAP.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), author of the proposal filed in the Senate, asked in session if, if approved, SNAP would be available for Puerto Rico this summer.

“There is a lot of work to do to set up the technology and staffing for this effort. Therefore, we have been working very closely with the governor. I traveled to Puerto Rico, spoke with him specifically about this. I think, unfortunately, it’s not a matter of weeks or months, but I think it will certainly be in the foreseeable future. The expectation and the objective is to really make the transition to SNAP,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack answered.

Another who is closely watching the bill is Puerto Rican Democratic Congressman Darren Soto (D-FL), member of the House Agriculture Committee, who also says that the best possibilities of promoting Puerto Rico’s integration into SNAP depend on the Senate.

If the Senate Republicans do not approve it, Soto told El Nuevo Día thatthe Democrats of the House Agriculture Committee have a proposal to demand an increase in PAN funds as plan B.

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The president of the Coalition for Food Security of Puerto Rico, Lillian Rodríguez López, also thanked the Democratic leaders for their support while she explained the impact that the absence of SNAP has had on the island.

“For more than forty years, Puerto Rico’s exclusion from SNAP has harmed low-income families, children, seniors, and veterans by exacerbating poverty and food insecurity. The implementation of the NAP created an immediate chasm in nutrition financing by instituting an automatic 25% reduction in aid, which has been expanded over the decades,” said Rodríguez.

Author

  • Mivette Vega

    Mivette Vega is a seasoned journalist and multimedia reporter whose stories center the Latino community. She is passionate about justice, equality, environmental matters, and animals. She is a Salvadorrican—Salvadorian that grew up in Puerto Rico—that has lived in San Juan, Venice, Italy, and Miami.

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