BEYOND THE NUMBERS
The Senate is expected to vote this week on a disaster relief bill restoring food aid to Puerto Rico, among other crucial assistance for the Commonwealth during its ongoing recovery as well as other U.S. territories and states affected by natural disasters. Our new video series presents personal stories showing why the food aid is essential to more than a million Puerto Rican residents.
The Commonwealth’s Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) provides benefits to enable 1.35 million Puerto Ricans, including over 300,000 children, to buy food. Unlike SNAP (food stamps), a federal entitlement program under which anyone eligible for benefits under its formula can receive them, NAP is a block grant with fixed, limited annual funding. That means NAP serves fewer people than it would under SNAP’s rules and its benefits are lower. Also, NAP can’t automatically expand when need increases (as SNAP does), such as after a natural disaster.
Following the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and María in late 2017, federal policymakers provided funding to extend NAP to more people and raise benefits. But the added funding dried up earlier this year, drastically cutting NAP benefits.
In these videos, which we and the Youth Development Institute of Puerto Rico (Instituto del Desarrollo de la Juventud, or IDJ) jointly developed, Puerto Ricans explain the importance of the NAP increase and the impact of the benefit cut:
- Suzette de Jesús, a working mother, says the increase enabled her to buy groceries for the whole month but she now has trouble affording food plus other necessities, such as rent.
- Salvador Gómez, a college student living with his mother and sister, says the increase enabled them to afford more food than a “canned sausage or a soda cracker.”
- Keishla Santiago Santana, a working single mother, says the increase helped her feed her children healthy food, especially when she lost her job after Hurricane María. She has only found a part-time job and worries that her benefits won’t stretch through the month.
- Vidnalys Villegas, who lost her house during Hurricane María and is training to be a community health worker, says NAP benefits are particularly important because she and her husband lost their jobs and haven’t been able to find work. NAP’s current benefits are “not enough for what we really need,” she says.
These powerful stories show the urgent need for federal policymakers to restore food aid to Puerto Rico. Over the long run, restructuring NAP to operate like SNAP would enable it to help all Commonwealth families that need it.