The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Puerto Rico (Mr. Pierluisi) for 5 minutes.
Mr. Speaker, today I'm introducing the Puerto Rico SNAP Restoration Act.
In 1971, Congress enacted legislation to partially include Puerto Rico in what is today called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and what was then called the Food Stamp program.
Implementation of the Food Stamp program in Puerto Rico began in 1974. In 1977, Congress amended Federal law to fully include Puerto Rico in the Food Stamp program so that rules governing eligibility and benefits applied no differently on the island than they did in the 50 States. Four years later, however, Congress exercised its authority under the Territory Clause and removed Puerto Rico from the Food Stamp program, electing to provide the island government with an annual block grant instead. Since 1982, Puerto Rico has used this block grant to administer its Nutrition Assistance Program, which differs from SNAP in a number of material respects.
The bill I'm introducing today, which I will seek to include in the 2012 farm bill, would reinstate the SNAP program in Puerto Rico in place of the block grant.
If this bill is enacted into law, Puerto Rico would join the 50 States, the District of Columbia and two U.S. territories--Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands--as jurisdictions fully participating in SNAP. My decision to file legislation converting Puerto Rico back to SNAP was made after carefully weighing the benefits and costs associated with this conversion. I relied primarily upon an in-depth study prepared by the USDA which evaluated the feasibility and impact of reinstating SNAP in Puerto Rico. On this subject, as with other important issues that I'm tackling, I have adhered to the principle that it is essential to build a strong evidentiary record prior to taking legislative action.
The USDA report is comprehensive and raises a number of important policy questions, but its bottom-line message for Puerto Rico is crystal clear, namely, while there are some trade-offs associated with the conversion to SNAP, the benefits of conversion far outweigh the costs.
Let me be more specific. Applying certain assumptions, the USDA study found that conversion would increase the number of households that receive nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico by over 15 percent. An additional 85,000 households would become eligible for assistance under SNAP. Moreover, restoring SNAP would raise the average monthly benefit by participating households by nearly 10 percent. And instituting equal treatment for Puerto Rico under SNAP would mean an additional $457 million in Federal spending for the island each year, over 90 percent of which would take the form of additional benefits.
These numbers reveal a fundamental truth: because Congress removed Puerto Rico from SNAP 20 years ago, hundreds of thousands of needy children, families, and seniors on the island have received no nutrition assistance at all or have received far fewer benefits than they would have received if they lived in the 50 States or even in the neighboring Virgin Islands.
Accordingly, Puerto Rico's exclusion from this program serves as yet another example of how the American citizens I represent, especially my most vulnerable constituents, are treated unequally because of the island's territory status.
Whether I'm fighting to convert Puerto Rico back to SNAP or to increase the island's annual block grant, I strongly believe this is a fight worth making. By ensuring that the neediest of my constituents can afford a healthy diet, we enable them to lead a dignified and independent life, which in the long run helps reduce health care costs and takes pressure off other safety net programs.
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