WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.) joined a group of Senate and House colleagues in introducing the Equitable Nutrition Assistance for the Territories Act of 2020 to ensure that in the face of the economic, public-health, and food-security crises posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the people of Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa receive equal access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The federal SNAP program is designed to meet the needs of food-insecure Americans during times of high poverty, unemployment, and economic downturns, automatically expanding coverage as necessary. Under SNAP, everyone who is eligible receives benefits. The block grant that these three territories’ receive for nutrition assistance means that no matter how many people face food insecurity, the amount of funding remains flat.
“Without Congressional action, more than a million people in Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa will see their nutrition assistance significantly reduced or completely eliminated,” said Sen. Booker. “We must ensure that our fellow Americans who live in the territories are treated fairly. That includes fair funding for basic necessities, like food.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t discriminate based on the geographical location. All American citizens, no matter where they live, need and deserve support from the federal government,” said Sen. Menendez. “Providing equal access to the supplemental nutrition assistance program across states and territories is critical in helping families who are struggling during this crisis to put food on the table. I urge my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to join us and pass this bill. These American families have no time to wait.”

Puerto Rico is in especially dire need of increased food assistance funding due to a decades-long economic crisis, hundreds of recent earthquakes, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated certain parts of the island. Prior to the outbreak, one-third of adults experienced food insecurity. Since then, the island has seen an increase of over 10,000 new families applying for nutrition support.

In the early 1980s, Congress removed Puerto Rico from what was then the Food Stamp Program and replaced it with a block grant. A family of four in Puerto Rico receives a maximum basic benefit of $410 per month compared to $649 for a family of four living in the continental United States. The Equitable Nutrition Assistance for the Territories Act of 2020 transitions Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa to SNAP benefits.

The bill is cosponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.-7).

A summary of the bill can be found here.