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Washington Post: Puerto Rico might not get $600 million in aid until September despite new law

Posted at 4:30 PM, Jun 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-25 13:20:03-04

The Trump administration has not sent $600 million in emergency food stamp aid to Puerto Rico two weeks after President Donald Trump approved the funds, and the US territory does not expect to receive the funding until September, according to The Washington Post.

The anticipated delay would mark six months after cuts to the food stamp program began, Glorimar Andújar Matos, executive director of the Departamento de la Familia, told the Post.

Around a million people in Puerto Rico are reliant on the food stamp program, according to Matos, and they have seen a decrease in benefits in the months since the cuts began.

When states and territories request federal funding from the Food and Nutrition Service, the USDA must first review their plans before approving the fund allocation.

In a statement to the Post, a USDA official said that Puerto Rico must propose a plan and then make “required system changes” to its local food stamps program. The agency also told the Post that the Puerto Rican government must follow financial management procedures, which it cannot do until Congress approves the funding.

However, following Hurricane Maria in 2017, the Puerto Rican government submitted a new plan, according to the Post. In light of the food stamp aid cuts, Matos told the Post that she is waiting to learn from the USDA agency if the Puerto Rican government should send an amended plan or a new one for the additional aid.

“The Food and Nutrition Service has not yet informed us whether we will be asked to amend,” Matos said in a statement to the Post.

Brooke Hardison, a spokeswoman for the US Department of Agriculture, said Tuesday that officials from the Food and Nutrition Service “have been actively working with Puerto Rico’s Secretary of the Department of the Family to provide technical assistance — including sending staff to Puerto Rico — to help them amend their existing disaster plan and ensure that Puerto Rico citizens in need get the additional assistance as soon as possible.”

She said the FNS received the plan from Puerto Rico on Monday.

“Prompt implementation of this disaster assistance is a priority for the department, and we are hopeful that funding will be issued in August,” Hardison said, adding that the temporary disaster funding required is unprecedented and “cannot be implemented in the same manner” as a regular nutrition assistance program block grant.

But Kevin Concannon, the undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services during the Obama administration, told the Post there should be no reason for the delays.

“It’s normally rapidly approved, because you’re trying to mitigate the impact of hunger and food insecurity,” Concannon told the paper. “This should be straightforward. It should not take this long. The existing program in Puerto Rico has been there for decades, and the infrastructure is used months in and months out.”

While lawmakers were considering the emergency funding package, the Trump administration claimed the funding requests for Puerto Rico were “excessive and unnecessary” in a letter to Congress. However, Senate Republicans pressured the administration to include Puerto Rican aid as part of a $19 billion disaster relief package, as they felt it would encourage the Democrat-controlled House to pass the bill, according to the Post.

This story has been updated with additional comment from the US Department of Agriculture.