To amend the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 to authorize additional funds to expand the nutritional assistance program in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; and to require the Secretary of Agriculture to permit such assistance to be provided by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in the form of cash during periods for which the Secretary determines that access to such assistance is limited or unavailable as a result of a natural disaster.
Relevance to PR:
Puerto Rico receives a capped block grant (i.e. a fixed level of annual funding) for basic food assistance instead of participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is an entitlement program that can expand and contract to accommodate changing need, such as when a natural disaster strikes. While other major federal nutrition programs — including WIC and School Meals — operate in Puerto Rico the same as in other states and territories, the Commonwealth is disadvantaged with respect to household food assistance. Currently, the Commonwealth controls program costs by imposing income and benefit limits well below those in SNAP. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has determined that, if Puerto Rico participated in SNAP, it would spend approximately 23 percent more on household food assistance than it currently does as (poverty rate in Puerto Rico is over 3X the national average and its cost of living exceeds many other areas of the country). This bill would temporarily increase NAP funds for 2020 and 2021, to account for the increased need after Hurricane Maria. It also would allow cash payments for NAP participants during times when use of the electronic benefit cards would be difficult or impossible, like after a major natural disaster.
Experts may want to look into how access to NAP and therefore nutrition in Puerto Rico was impacted by hurricane Maria and whether the differences between NAP and SNAP impacted nutritional outcomes in Puerto Rico.