Sanders, Velázquez Unveil Legislation to Provide Nutrition Assistance to Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa

WASHINGTON, March 6 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) today introduced the Equitable Nutrition Assistance for the Territories Act of 2019 to restore Puerto Rico’s, the Northern Mariana Islands’ and American Samoa’s access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

In the early 1980’s, Puerto Rico was removed from SNAP and given a block grant to administer nutrition assistance. The block grant, the Nutrition Assistance Program, has meant less funding and fewer benefits for Puerto Ricans – 85 percent of whom are food insecure. People who receive assistance through the Nutrition Assistance Program receive fewer benefits than SNAP recipients. A family of four in Puerto Rico receives a maximum benefit of $410 per month while a family of four living in the Continental U.S. receives a maximum benefit of $649 per month.

The Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa also receive block grants instead of SNAP, putting pressure on their funding for nutrition assistance.

Sanders and Velázquez’s legislation would equitably distribute food assistance to Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.

“The people of Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa are American citizens, and deserve to be treated as American citizens," Sanders said. "This bill would end unequal treatment of the territories, help Puerto Rico recover from the hurricanes and aid the most vulnerable in our society by providing sustainable economic relief going forward."

“Puerto Ricans are American citizens who fight and die in our wars,” said Rep. Velázquez. “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.  No child in our nation should ever go hungry, but especially not after a natural disaster.  Unfortunately, the current nutrition assistance program fails Puerto Rico when food demand is highest.  This legislation would fix this longstanding injustice and I’m proud to join Bernie Sanders in introducing it,” Velázquez said.

Puerto Rico is in especially dire need of increased food assistance funding as a result of the hurricanes last year, which devastated the island. Without new appropriations, Puerto Rico will run out of funding for the Nutrition Assistance Program that was approved in response to the hurricanes. An estimated 1.4 million U.S. citizens, including 300,000 children will face a large cut to their food assistance benefits, and up to 230,000 people will lose their benefits entirely.

In January, the House of Representatives approved additional disaster funding for Puerto Rico, which included an additional $600 million for Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) funding. President Trump’s administration called the $600 million needed for food assistance "excessive and unnecessary." 
 
The legislation introduced today is needed more than ever in the aftermath of a decades-long fiscal crisis, Hurricanes Irma and Maria and the imminent disaster funding cliff. The bill would allow Puerto Rico to continue to provide a percentage of its benefits in the form of cash assistance and also continues its Family Market Program.

Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) are cosponsors.

To read a summary of the bill, click here

To read the bill text, click here.