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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Food Security Coalition urges Congress to approve an additional $1 billion in PAN funds

Manuel Reyes Alfonso, executive director of the Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry & Distribution

By The Star Staff

The Puerto Rico Food Security Coalition called on the U.S. Congress on Thursday to give the green light to a proposed allocation of an additional $1 billion in nutritional aid funds for Puerto Rico to ease the abrupt cut in benefits this year when COVID aid ends.

Some 1.5 million people, or 800,000 families, receive Nutritional Assistance Program (PAN by its Spanish acronym) benefits.

“Puerto Ricans continue to receive unequal treatment under the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP). There is no parity in nutrition assistance funding for Puerto Rico compared to states and other territories,” Lillian Rodríguez López, spokesperson for the Puerto Rico Food Security Coalition said in a written statement. “The billion dollars that we are requesting is essential to avoid a food security crisis due to the abrupt reduction of benefits that will occur in July 2022.”

Rodríguez López said the solution to avoid the recurring need for special appropriations by Congress is to transition Puerto Rico to SNAP, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

“The approval of a new Agricultural Law in 2023 is an immediate opportunity to do so,” she said.

The new allocation will address the reduction in benefits that Puerto Rico will see in July of this year, after the end of aid for the COVID-19 emergency provided by Congress in 2021.

Under federal law, Puerto Rico receives nutritional assistance funds through PAN, a grant with limited funds that provides monthly benefits to participants on the island. This means that the aid received by Puerto Rico is significantly less than the states of the nation, and territories such as Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which participate in SNAP. As a program based on the needs of the individual and the family, SNAP can respond effectively to demographic changes, levels of poverty and economic stagnation. SNAP recipients receive higher monthly benefits and have immediate access to additional disaster funds.

“The food security crisis is increasing worldwide and the factors that have affected the production and distribution of food, as well as its cost, have also affected Puerto Rico,” said Manuel Reyes Alfonso, executive director of the Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry & Distribution and a member of the Coalition. “The food industry and retailers work diligently to ensure the availability of quality food for the residents of Puerto Rico, but there are economic forces beyond our control. This new allocation allows the island to address the combined effects of COVID-19, inflation, and supply chain challenges. The ideal solution is to transition Puerto Rico to SNAP next year.”

Charlotte Gossett Navarro, principal director of the Hispanic Federation in Puerto Rico, noted that “[t]he parity claim that we present today to the U.S. Congress is not a mere budgetary one.”

“Our claim seeks to ensure that all people living in Puerto Rico have adequate access to enough healthy food to have food security and quality of life,” she said. “It is a claim of human dignity that Congress must address immediately and permanently.”

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