(May 5, 2020 – Washington, D.C.) Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced urged Congress to include Puerto Rico in the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program created by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, (FFCRA) P.L. 116-127. This program would allow the island to provide eligible beneficiaries and children access to much needed nutritional assistance benefits during the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
The P-EBT program allows states to provide meal replacement benefits to families who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price meals at schools. For children whose families participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the states can increase the family’s monthly allotment through the electronic benefits system. For those not included in the SNAP program, an EBT card can be provided to cover the cost of the lost school meals. However, Puerto Rico is excluded from P-EBT because the program operates through SNAP, and the island receives its food assistance benefits through the Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP), a capped block-grant. As a result, over 290,000 students who are eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals in Puerto Rico are currently unable to be served by P-EBT.
As Puerto Rico continues to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital that our children have equal access to all the available assistance given to the children in the U.S. mainland. This assistance is crucial since Puerto Rico currently has 58 percent of children living in poverty, with 37 percent living in extreme poverty, and 40 percent of the overall population presently living under the poverty level. These statistics are higher in Puerto Rico than any other jurisdiction in the United States. As such, in the letter, the Governor urges Congress to take the necessary steps in the next COVID-19 supplemental to ensure Puerto Rico’s children can participate in this program. Additionally, the letter asks Congress for a funding mechanism equal to that of the states and includes a request to authorize P-EBT for the island permanently. These actions would ensure that the program may be used during future emergencies to guarantee the necessary nutritional assistance benefits for our children.
“As Governor of Puerto Rico, I am working diligently to provide our children with all the available resources to ensure their food security,” said Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced. “My priority is that no child will suffer from hunger or lack of essential services during this emergency. I have taken the necessary measures to guarantee access to food during these unprecedented times.”
The Governor added, “I ask Congress to grant our request to be treated equally so that our children and their families can have much-needed nutritional assistance funds as we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Historically, Puerto Rico has been treated disproportionally under federal programs; as such, we urge Congress to include the island’s our children in P-EBT as they work on the next COVID-19 supplemental,” said Jennifer M. Storipan, Esq. “We must ensure Puerto Rico’s access to federal funds that provide families and children the necessary resources to fight hunger during this emergency.”