• The Star Staff

Puerto Rico residents face cuts in food assistance program

By John McPhaul


Nearly 1.5 million Puerto Rico residents, including more than 300,000 children, are facing deep cuts in food assistance in August when the island will run out of federal emergency nutrition assistance, the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities (CBPP) said Tuesday.

“Despite this need, the new Senate Republican economic relief plan doesn’t include more food aid for Puerto Rico,” the non-profit group said. “While the House-passed Heroes Act includes a modest increase in nutrition funding for Puerto Rico, it too falls short of governor Wanda Vázquez Garced’s request.”

CBPP released a new analysis on Tuesday urging policymakers to boost nutrition funding for Puerto Rico in the next relief package.

“Food insecurity in Puerto Rico was already high before the pandemic and has only worsened due to COVID-19-related increases in unemployment and mandated school closures,” CBPP said. “Making matters worse, Puerto Rico was left out of the Pandemic EBT [Electronic Benefits Transfer] program that was enacted in March to provide additional food aid to school children across the country who are missing free and reduced-price meals due to school closures.”

Unlike other parts of the country, Puerto Rico entered the novel coronavirus pandemic after more than a decade of economic decline coupled with hurricanes, earthquakes, and an unprecedented, ongoing bankruptcy process, the group said. And on top of that, Puerto Rico residents have limited or no access to the nation’s safety net, further exacerbating hardship.

“As CBPP’s new analysis explains, Puerto Rico’s nutrition assistance program [PAN by its Spanish acronym] is already woefully inadequate when compared with the SNAP program,” the CBPP pointed out. “[PAN] can’t expand to serve more people to meet rising needs in the face of natural disasters or economic downturns. Consequently, Puerto Rico must rely on Congress to increase benefits –- which they did in 2017 –- but the additional funding will be exhausted in August. Without more funding, millions of American citizens in Puerto Rico will suffer greatly from these steep benefit reductions.

“That’s why policymakers must include a boost in nutrition funding for Puerto Rico in the next COVID-19 relief package.”

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