At a time when many are discussing the transformative possibilities of the use of federal funds in Puerto Rico, we must not lose sight of one of the proposals that has the greatest potential impact for our island: the transition from the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The Center for a New Economy is strongly in favor of extending SNAP to Puerto Rico. We recently published a report analyzing the transition, where we emphasized the benefits it would bring. SNAP would not only increase the federal nutrition assistance for poor people in Puerto Rico, but it would also ensure more funds during economic crises or following natural disasters. The transition to SNAP would also increase the size of the population that is eligible for nutrition assistance, and end a shameful legacy of discrimination by the U.S. Congress against residents of Puerto Rico.
Currently, NAP relies on new congressional action every time a crisis or natural disaster puts the government’s finances in check or the economic situation for Puerto Rican families worsens. Under SNAP, we would have a program that is flexible and responsive to the needs of communities that suffer from food insecurity.
That same flexibility would ensure a much more robust nutritional assistance for the vast majority of beneficiaries. As an entitlement or a right that every U.S. citizen has, SNAP provides resources based on the level of need, not on a defined amount like NAP. Under SNAP, the number of people receiving nutritional assistance in Puerto Rico, currently around 1.5 million, could increase by 9 to 12%. In other words, SNAP would provide assistance to an additional 100,000 people who currently do not receive any support under NAP. The subsidy would also increase significantly, even doubling that of NAP in certain cases.
The benefits of extending SNAP to Puerto Rico will be felt not only by the homes that receive the assistance. According to the federal Department of Agriculture, SNAP has a multiplier effect on the economy. Each additional dollar increases economic activity in supermarkets, businesses, farms and many other sectors, which in turn creates jobs and generates new investment opportunities.
All of these benefits are important, but we must also address this issue from the perspective of justice. The extension of SNAP would bring down one of the most insidious discriminatory practices of the federal government towards our island. How can we justify that Puerto Rican families, living with a lack of economic opportunities and dealing with the typical precariousness of life in Puerto Rico, receive nutrition assistance that is barely half of what a similar family in Florida, Texas or any other state can receive? The answer is that there is no justification. Even more so when one takes into account that Puerto Rico’s nutritional assistance program used to operate the same as it does in the states, but Congress replaced it with NAP in 1982 in an effort to cut down the federal budget.
Like with any other change in public policy, the transition from NAP to SNAP may be challenging. However, the benefits of SNAP far outweigh the cost of the transition. Moreover, it is up to the federal and local governments to ensure a responsible implementation of SNAP so that the new policy benefits all those who currently rely on nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico.
The Spanish language version of this column was originally published in El Nuevo Día on September 1, 2022.