The proposal to extend the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to Puerto Rico should be seen as an opportunity to improve the quality of life of thousands of families while their members are integrated, based on their abilities, into the labor force.
The labor component of SNAP is consistent with the aspiration to strengthen society with the productivity of more workers, reducing the permanent government dependence that erodes the treasury and alienates the ethics and dignity derived from self-support. Instead, people with conditions that prevent them from fending for themselves or working should receive fair public assistance.
Currently, Puerto Rico receives a block grant through the Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP), which projects an allocation of $2.633 billion by 2023. Moving the island to SNAP would represent a contribution of $4.5 billion per year, according to recent estimates.
El Nuevo Día
The implementation of SNAP here would bring about 246,000 people into the labor force. They would retain the nutrition assistance benefit as they move toward permanent employment, according to a study by the Institute for Economic Freedom (ILE). It also projects an 8.2% increase in nutrition assistance recipients in Puerto Rico by eliminating unequal treatment between U.S. citizens residing on the island and those living in the states and other territories.
Moving to SNAP would not adversely affect people with conditions that make them unable to work. On the contrary, these citizens would receive with this program an increase with respect to the assistance that NAP grants them now, according to projections of the proponents of the change.
President Joe Biden has spoken in favor of implementing SNAP in Puerto Rico. In recent days, the undersecretary for Food and Nutrition of the federal Department of Agriculture, Stacy Dean, was receptive to the fact that it could be fully established here in less than 10 years. Dean made the remarks when referring to the steps that state governments must take to implement the program. However, the approval of its extension to the island is subject to Congressional legislation, where it will be vital to present the initiative as a measure of social justice for the Puerto Rican people.
If a transition to SNAP is on track, it will be necessary for the Puerto Rican government to make the administrative and infrastructural adjustments required by federal authorities. In the meantime, the recommendation of a phased implementation through a pilot program should be evaluated.
In the short term, it is necessary for the local population to have a clear understanding of the scope of SNAP, compared to the assistance provided by NAP that has been in place in Puerto Rico for four decades. For example, it is important to provide guidance on the work requirement, including the provisions applicable to people who do not have documented disabling conditions. SNAP requires at least 80 hours of work per month or participation in a qualified job training program for healthy individuals aged 18 and 49 who do not have dependents.
The eventual evolution from NAP to SNAP should incorporate the option of self-employment, allowing this whole range of activities to enter the formal labor market. In addition, the support of the business sector will be key to increasing the availability of jobs and training for new workers, with adequate remuneration and development opportunities.
SNAP is emerging as a mechanism for adding to the labor force human capital whose productivity may be limited today by fear of losing family support or the comfort of dependence on the government. Its implementation can strengthen opportunities for the advancement of many citizens who can become active allies in the optimal development of Puerto Rico.
This piece was originally published in Spanish in El Nuevo Dia.