The San Juan Daily Star
Legislation filed in US Senate to move Puerto Rico from PAN to SNAP
By The Star Staff
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón on Wednesday announced the filing in the United States Senate of the Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance Fairness Act, which had already been filed by the resident commissioner in the House, to allow Puerto Rico to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The landmark move would address inequalities in nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico, which was excluded from SNAP in 1981, allowing the island to participate only in the less thorough Nutrition Assistance Program (PAN), resulting in the loss of billions of dollars in aid and reduced benefits. The transition resulted in an immediate 25% reduction in nutritional aid.
Federal lawmakers were joined at a press conference announcing the bill by Speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives Rafael Hernández Montañez and Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration Executive Director Luis Dávila Pernas.
“For more than 40 years, Puerto Rico has been unfairly excluded from SNAP, resulting in billions of dollars in lost aid and reduced nutritional benefits for more than one million Puerto Ricans,” said Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “The Nutrition Assistance Fairness Act would correct this injustice and allow Puerto Ricans to participate in SNAP, as well as receive Disaster SNAP in the wake of natural disasters or emergencies. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I am focused on including this critical legislation in this year’s Farm Bill and am optimistic that we will succeed.”
“Nutrition assistance programs, particularly SNAP, are essential to supporting the health and well-being of millions of people in the United States. Unfortunately, U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico do not have access to this federal program,” González Colón said. “We have instead a block grant that limits the assistance that can be provided to a beneficiary. Nor can this program adapt to surge demand during natural disasters or emergencies, when vulnerable populations need it most. Getting Congress to approve supplemental funding is not a reliable mechanism when experiencing a real-time emergency. For that reason, I have introduced legislation seeking Puerto Rico’s transition from the PAN to SNAP. I thank Senator Gillibrand for introducing the Senate version of my bill and look forward to continuing to work together, and with my colleagues in the House, to ensure access to this vital program for Puerto Rico.”
Hernández Montañez thanked Gillibrand, Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and González Colón for their continued leadership to increase nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico.
“As American citizens, Puerto Ricans deserve all the benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). For more than 40 years, Puerto Rico has received insufficient funding from this essential program. The time has come to provide equity through the inclusion of the Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance Equity Act of 2023 in the reauthorization of the Farm Bill,” he said. “Members of Congress should be aware that we are working through the budget process in Puerto Rico to prepare the local resources necessary to make the orderly transition from the Nutrition Assistance Program to equitable treatment under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP in Puerto Rico will foster labor force participation and reward workers and their families. It will complement well-being and have a multiplier economic benefit as Puerto Rico emerges from recovery to sustainable growth.”
Dávila Pernas added: “When Puerto Ricans advocate for the transition to SNAP, we’re not simply talking about being included in another federal program. We’re talking about the opportunity for children to have food on their table and for families not to wonder where their next meal will come from. The Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance Equity Act seeks to ensure that all American citizens on the island receive the same level of support as their fellow Americans on the mainland.”