PR receives $36 million for mental health services; HUD grants emergency vouchers for homeless

By John McPhaul

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón announced new allocations of federal funds and aid on Tuesday to reduce cases of homelessness and provide assistance to mental health patients on the island.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) assigned 627 vouchers to Puerto Rico under the Emergency Housing Vouchers, or emergency housing voucher program. The funds are part of the $5 billion authorized by the American Rescue Plan and distributed nationally.

The program aims to reduce the cases of people without a place to live by granting emergency vouchers to help homeless individuals and families; those at risk of homelessness; those who flee or attempt to flee from domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking or human trafficking; or those who are recently homeless or at high risk for housing instability.

The Public Housing Administration will receive 188 vouchers, the municipality of San Juan will receive 48 vouchers and the following municipalities will receive 15 vouchers each: Ponce, Mayagüez, Moca, Aguadilla, Cayey, Arecibo, Corozal, San Sebastián, Manatí, San Germán, Quebradillas, Utuado, Comerio, Fajardo, Juana Díaz, Camuy, Guánica, Yabucoa, Barranquitas, Cabo Rojo, Isabela, Salinas, Lajas, Vieques, Juncos and Aguas Buenas.

Meanwhile, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) allocated $36,365,576 to the commonwealth Anti-Addiction and Mental Health Services Administration.

Under the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant Program, SAMHSA allocated $18,182,788. The program enables states and territories to plan, implement and evaluate activities to prevent, treat and help more people recover from substance use disorders. The funding will also allow recipients to make investments in existing prevention, treatment and recovery infrastructure, promote provider support, and address unique local needs to provide substance use disorder services.

The other half of $18,182,788 was allocated under the Community Mental Health Block Grant Program. The program enables states and territories to provide comprehensive community mental health services and address the needs and gaps in existing treatment services for people with serious mental illness.

González Colón advocated that the food assistance program for Puerto Rico, known as PAN by its Spanish acronym, be changed to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) so that the needs of more than 1.5 million residents on the island who depend on this federal aid are better served. The resident commissioner’s claim was made during a congressional hearing held by the Agriculture Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. The resident commissioner said she is working on the SNAP initiative along with the commonwealth government and the federal Department of Agriculture.

“As you know, Puerto Rico does not participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) like its counterparts in the States, D.C., Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Instead, it has the Nutritional Assistance Program, or PAN, which is a capped block grant typically funded at more than $1.9 billion each year and that currently serves more than 1.5 million island residents,” González Colón said at the hearing. “PAN is one of the main assistance programs for needy residents of the island. Like SNAP, PAN provides a monthly allowance to support a healthy and balanced diet. However, due to limited funding, the PAN cannot automatically adjust to fluctuations in demand, including those related to emergencies, and provides fewer benefits to eligible participants.”

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