‘The right thing to do’: Puerto Ricans in Central Florida fight for SNAP benefits

ORLANDO, Fla. — Central Florida’s Puerto Rican community is at the center of a national fight over a bill that is renewed every 5 years by elected leaders in D.C.


The ‘Farm Bill’ funds food and agriculture programs across the country including the SNAP program.

SNAP replaced Food Stamps and allows low-income U.S. Citizens to purchase food for their families.

Through SNAP a family of four living in the continental U.S. can collect a maximum of $973 a month for food purchases.

But, Puerto Ricans on the island haven’t been included in the program since the 1980.

Data from UCF’s Puerto Rico hub shows over 400,000 Puerto Ricans live in Central Florida, and many now want their loved ones back on the island to have access to SNAP benefits.

“Benefits were taken away from Puerto Ricans in 1981 and since then we have been asking for the program to be reinstalled in the island,” said Mayra Ramos Miro, the Regional Director for the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration in Kissimmee.

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Budget cuts in the 80′s carved Puerto Rico out of the program, then called the Food Stamps Program.

Instead, Puerto Ricans receive Nutritional Assistance Program benefits known as NAP, a capped block grant with set annual funding.

According to an analysis of NAP administrative data by the Center for Policy and Budget Priorities, the NAP maximum benefit allotment for a family of 4 is about half of SNAP at $410 a month.

“The benefits are lower and in times of a crisis it is not adjusted to the condition of the island,” said Miro.

Advocates say Hurricane Maria in 2017 highlighted the limits of NAP which has more restrictive eligibility requirements, lower monthly benefits, and can’t expand to meet increased disaster need.

U.S. Congressman Darren Soto believes his Kissimmee constituents want to see Puerto Ricans switched over to the SNAP program.

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“One of every four of my constituents is of Puerto Rican descent like myself and many of us have family down on the island,” said Soto, “There’s a lot of constituents who I’m hearing from who want to make sure this gets done.”

Soto, a Democrat who sits on a House Agriculture Subcommittee, believes the Farm Bill could head to committee sometime in July.

Aside from supporting SNAP for Puerto Ricans he supports agricultural subsidies for the island.

“We have to improve the domestic agriculture there, an island with a 24/7 growing season that only produces 25% of its own food is not sustainable,” said Soto.

Soto also said he is fighting to help local ranchers, citrus growers, and Central Florida’s SNAP program as the Farm Bill gets worked on, but he believes more help for Puerto Rico is possible.

Meanwhile funding is likely an uphill battle, with some pointing to large costs that would be associated with SNAP expanding to Puerto Rico.

Channel 9 has reached out to three Republican Chairs of Agriculture subcommittees for their perspective on a possible expansion but did not hear back before news time Thursday.

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