March 07, 2019

Warren Joins Sanders, Velázquez, Colleagues in Unveiling Legislation to Provide Nutrition Assistance to Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa

Bill Text (PDF) | Bill Summary (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today joined Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) in introducing 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 1980s, Puerto Rico was removed from SNAP and given a block grant to administer nutrition assistance. The block grant, the Nutrition Assistance Program, has provided 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 smaller 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.

The legislation would equitably distribute food assistance to Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. It would also allow Puerto Rico to continue to provide a percentage of its benefits in the form of cash assistance and continue its Family Market Program. The bill is based on a provision of the Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act, major legislation that Senator Warren, Senator Sanders, Representative Velázquez, and colleagues introduced in 2017.

"Families in Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa are United States citizens, and deserve the same food assistance they would have on the mainland," said Senator Warren. "Puerto Rican families were being squeezed long before they endured hurricane devastation and this Administration's neglect. I'm glad to support this bill to close that nutrition gap."

"The people of Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa are American citizens, and deserve to be treated as American citizens," Senator 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 experiencing need for increased food assistance funding as a result of the 2017 hurricanes, which devastated the island. Without new appropriations, Puerto Rico will soon run out of supplemental funding for the Nutrition Assistance Program approved in response to the hurricanes. An estimated 1.4 million U.S. citizens, including 300,000 children have started to face, or will soon face, a large cut to their food assistance benefits. As many as 230,000 people are expected to 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 food assistance funding "excessive and unnecessary."
Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), 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.

For more information about Senator Warren's work fighting for robust recovery efforts for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands since Hurricanes Irma and Maria, visit