Washington – Yesterday, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Nydia Velázquez teamed up to introduce a bill that would restore Puerto Rico´s access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which, according to experts, would represent a $ 700 million annual increase in nutrition assistance.
The bills introduced in the Senate and the House would authorize Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands to submit plans to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture that will allow access to SNAP, which distributes nutrition assistance in the 50 states, and the territories of Guam and the Virgin Islands.
Since 1980, Puerto Rico faces a cap on nutrition assistance funds, which are now received through the Nutrition Assistance Program (PAN), which this federal fiscal year represents about $ 1.9 billion.
For Senator Sanders, Vermont, one of the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential candidacy, “it is inconceivable that, in the wealthiest nation in the world, we have allowed our fellow citizens to suffer for so long without having access to all the resources of the United States government.”
Sanders said the bill would end unequal treatment in access to nutrition assistance and help Puerto Rico "recover from the hurricanes and aid the most vulnerable in our society.”
Democrat Velázquez, New York, argued that Puerto Ricans "are American citizens who fight and die in our wars."
“It is shameful and unconscionable that, when it comes to food security, they receive disparate treatment through a program that fails to help them when they need it most,” said Velázquez.
The bill includes a section that would allow Puerto Rico, as part of the plan that it will submit to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, to provide SNAP benefits in the form of cash.
Velázquez's bill is co-sponsored by 10 House representatives, including Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González – the only Republican in the group – and Democratic Puerto Ricans Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, José Serrano and Darren Soto. It is also supported by the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Raúl Grijalva, and Adriano Espaillat among others.
While in the Senate, the bill is co-sponsored by 10 Democrats, including presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Corey Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, among others. Although Democrats are majority in the House, they are minority in the Senate.
Until February 28, the Puerto Rican government had a $ 1.27 billion allocation in emergency funds for nutrition assistance that allowed increasing payments to PAN participants, bringing them closer to SNAP benefits, and including near 300,000 participants in the program.
While waiting for a possible additional $ 600 million allocation, the 1.35 million PAN participants – including the new 300,000 people who will remain in the program – have started to see their checks shrinking.