San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz claimed on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” that 43 percent of Puerto Ricans receive some sort of government nutritional assistance.
“Just to give you an idea, Anderson, 1.3 million Puerto Ricans out of 3.2 million that live in the island nation in Puerto Rico are receiving some sort of nutritional assistance. So that means that about 43 percent of the population needs this to put food on the table,” Cruz said Tuesday.
About 1.3 million Puerto Ricans, or 42 percent of the population, are enrolled in the Nutrition Assistance for Puerto Rico (NAP) program, according to a government spokesperson for Puerto Rico.
Cruz made the claim after CNN host Anderson Cooper asked for her reaction to reports that President Donald Trump complained in a private meeting with lawmakers about the amount of money being allocated to disaster relief in Puerto Rico.
“Well, the president continues to show his vindictive behavior towards Puerto Rico, and he continues to make the humanitarian crisis worse. What we’re talking about is a gap of $600 million that is needed to feed Puerto Rico,” said Cruz.
As of Wednesday, 1.3 million Puerto Ricans were enrolled in the NAP program, an official from Puerto Rico’s Administration for the Socioeconomic Development of the Family told The Daily Caller News Foundation. That’s about 42 percent of the 3.2 million inhabitants of Puerto Rico.
NAP is the Puerto Rican equivalent of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), an entitlement program used in most of the U.S. that provides benefits to lower-income people.
However, unlike SNAP, a portion of NAP benefits can be redeemed for cash. “Although the cash is designated for eligible food items, it is widely acknowledged that participants use at least some of their allotted cash for non-food essentials, such as medicine and hygiene products,” reads a report from the Department of Agriculture (USDA). NAP is funded through a capped block grant, and therefore does not expand or contract based on need like SNAP does.
A 2010 analysis from the USDA found that if Puerto Rico were to transition to SNAP, the number of households receiving nutrition assistance would increase 15.3 percent, along with a 22.7 percent increase in costs per year.
Puerto Rico typically receives about $2 billion a year for the NAP program, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), but in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, an additional $1.3 billion was allocated to support needy households. The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, has requested $600 million in additional disaster relief funding.
While lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have moved to grant the request, Republicans and Democrats are divided over additional funding for Puerto Rico, including infrastructure projects for the island. The Trump administration released a statement in January calling the $600 million “excessive and unnecessary,” but recent reports, citing senators, have said that while Trump opposes additional aid, he does support the $600 million for NAP.
In the absence of legislative action, some Puerto Ricans enrolled in NAP have begun to see their benefits cut. WaPo reported that as of March 12, about 675,000 had seen their benefits reduced 25 percent, on average.
“It is imperative that Puerto Rico receives the federal resources necessary to successfully complete our recovery and reconstruction efforts in a timely manner,” Rosselló said in a February letter to Congress. “Otherwise the consequences will include an excessive delay in fiscal stabilization, continuation of the high levels of outmigration from the island to the states and failure to fully restart the island’s economy.”
Puerto Rico has a poverty rate more than three times the national level.
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