Governor asks Congress for additional food program funds
By John McPhaul
Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced sent a letter to congressional leadership this week requesting swift action to provide an additional $1.2 billion in emergency federal funding for Puerto Rico’s Nutritional Assistance Program (PAN by its Spanish acronym). The allocation of funds would enable the government to meet the increased demand for nutritional assistance during the current crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the letter, the governor also expressed her support for the Equitable Nutrition Assistance for the Territories Act of 2020 (H.R. 6846; S. 677) and the Closing the Gap Act of 2020 (S. 3719), legislation that would address Puerto Rico’s nutrition disparities by transitioning the island, and other territories, into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
As Puerto Rico continues to recover from the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria, the seismic events that continue to impact the southern region of the island, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the island population has experienced an increase in food insecurity. The governor cautioned that if congressional action is not taken by July 31, the government would be forced to reduce and/or eliminate PAN benefits for some 187,040 U.S. citizens living on the island, she said in a press release.
Historically, residents of Puerto Rico do not ordinarily receive the same nutrition benefits as those residing in the states because of the island’s unequal territorial status. PAN assists more than 759,000 low-income families that are caught up in the island’s high poverty rates. Additionally, it is worth noting that over two-fifths of all residents of Puerto Rico (43 percent) and over half of children on the island (57 percent) lived in poverty in 2018, the governor pointed out.
“Puerto Rico is on the cusp of a nutritional assistance cliff with thousands of beneficiaries currently participating in PAN at risk of becoming food insecure,” Vázquez said. “The island and our people have suffered greatly in the past three years, and we continue to battle COVID-19. With this in mind, our priority will be that the people of Puerto Rico receive the necessary resources to cover their basic needs. I am urging Congress to take action and ensure that our most vulnerable population can have access to the same nutrition assistance benefits as other residents on the U.S. mainland.”
“This additional $1.2 billion in PAN emergency funding will aid thousands of beneficiaries on the island that are currently recovering from the economic distress that COVID-19 continues to cause,” said Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration Executive Director Jennifer M. Storipan. “As we continue to battle this pandemic, we will work with Congress to provide much-needed relief to low-income families and vulnerable individuals who live on the island.”