The change from PAN to PANS in Puerto Rico

The Puerto Rico Institute for Economic Liberty recently released a report analyzing how the potential shift from the current Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP) to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) could create favorable conditions for increasing the labor participation rate and economic freedom of the people of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has had a considerably low labor participation rate for decades. It is alarming that from 1990 to 2021 labor participation on the island did not even reach 50%, according to data from the International Labour Organization; in those 32 years, the historical maximum recorded was 49.8%, in 2007, and in the last 10 years it has averaged 40%.

Currently, the PAN may encourage people not to want to work because they would lose benefits if they exceed the net income level; this is known as the "poverty trap”. The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that 43.4% of Puerto Rico's population lives in poverty, while Mississippi, the poorest state, has a poverty rate of 18.7%, less than half that of Puerto Rico.

Some of the benefits that PANS brings are increased income limits and maximum benefits; the possibility of reducing poverty by between 14% and 16%; and the opportunity for participants to acquire or discover and apply new skills, find a job and continue to develop personally and professionally.

PANS would substantially increase benefits on the condition that those between the ages of 18 and 49, with no dependents and no documented disabilities, work at least 80 hours per month. The Puerto Rico Institute for Economic Liberty estimates that about 246,000 people could enter the labor force under the PANS parameters.

Currently, Puerto Rico has about $60 billion in federal disaster recovery funds allocated for construction and energy projects, not counting additional funds that could be received from Hurricane Fiona. If PANS is implemented, many beneficiaries could take advantage of these job opportunities while contributing to the rebuilding of Puerto Rico.

Dr. Ángel Carrión-Tavárez affirms that work "is the source of the goods and services that satisfy our desires and aspirations"; and "it is counterintuitive for people to desire or aspire to live on welfare and in poverty". For his part, Dr. Amartya Sen indicates that not only work but the freedom to work dignifies people through human development.

The PANS benefit phase-out system gives participants the freedom to work and earn money to support themselves and their families while continuing to receive the nutritional assistance they need. This promotes people's productivity and helps reduce the poverty trap that makes it difficult to escape food insecurity.

This piece was originally publish in Spanish in El Nuevo Dia

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