The Administration for Family Social and Economic Development (ADSEF) is already taking the necessary steps to eventually transition from the Food Assistance Program (PAN), which currently offers assistance to about 700,000 low-income families in Puerto Rico, to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). ), a program administered by the federal Department of Agriculture (USDA), whose benefits are more comprehensive and can be extended to more families on the Island.

If this effort materializes, explained ADSEF administrator Alberto Fradera Vazquez, another 200,000 families will be able to participate in the program to benefit from a program that can also be doubled.

“The program, known as PAN, administers what is a ‘block grant’ (block grant). This means that every year when the new federal fiscal year begins, on October 1 of each year, Puerto Rico receives specific funds to participate in this program. And we have to distribute that money among the number of participants that we have in the program. And that results in the benefits that our members receive being much lower than what SNAP beneficiaries in other states currently receive,” Fradera explained of the current situation at PAN.

By the same token, he added, “our eligibility tables are more restrictive from an income perspective because because we have a block allocation, it doesn’t allow us to adjust the income tables.”

“When Puerto Rico goes to SNAP, we will essentially double the benefits and also expand, quite broadly, the exemption to the amount of income a participant can report to be eligible,” he said. “A benefit to Puerto Rico so that families in need now can get more benefits. And at the same time, we guarantee healthy nutrition and food in homes, especially in those homes where the head of the family is mothers who take care of minors, as well as our elderly people.”

Also, unlike what happens with PAN’s fixed allocation block, in SNAP, if more families are enrolled, more funds are automatically added to the benefits they are supposed to receive.

The official explained that the move offers other benefits, such as “direct access to emergency funds.”

“Currently under the PAN program, which is not part of SNAP, once Puerto Rico experiences an emergency such as Hurricanes Irma and Maria, such as earthquakes, such as a pandemic, we must wait for Congress to appropriate funds to address this emergency situations And this delays the help and response that the government is called to provide to families and all citizens who find themselves in an emergency situation,” he commented.

“With SNAP, we would have direct access to emergency funds, so we wouldn’t have to wait for legislation. And we could help not only the members that we currently have in the program, but also those families that have been affected by an emergency and who are not PAN members, but who have been affected by a special situation because of the emergency, what do we do let’s face the truth, what we cannot do now within the framework of PAN,” he added.

In any case, the transition to SNAP requires congressional approval. And to achieve that, the administration of Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia has also redoubled its efforts in recent weeks as part of a broader strategy to integrate Puerto Rico into various federal programs, seeking treatment the same as in the states, and for which he even created a multi-sectoral working group according to Decree 2022-029.

In fact, on January 11, the Permanent Commissioner in Washington, Jennifer González Colon, submitted to Congress a measure that pursues this goal and proposes a five-year period to complete the transition.

“It should be noted that during this year the “farm bill” will be discussed in Congress. It’s the legislation that distributes the aid money, and that legislation includes SNAP and, in the case of Puerto Rico, PAN. Both the governor of Puerto Rico’s public policy and it’s President (Joe) Biden’s commitment that Puerto Rico transition to SNAP,” Fradera explained, adding that he believes the legislation includes authorization for Puerto Rico to transition to SNAP .

He emphasized that in ADSEF, “we are doing all the procedures available to us to approach this transition so that it is orderly. We’re having periodic standing meetings with the USDA and FNS (Food and Nutrition Service), which are the agencies that regulate ADSEF under the PAN program, to outline program policies, how we’re going to transition, to assess the training that’s going to be required for our staff, the training that will be required for federal government employees. So we are working accelerated and in favor of this transition.”

If congressional approval is granted, once the entire legislative process is complete and President Biden signs it into law, the relevant agencies, understood to be USDA and ADSEF, will be directed to begin the transition.

“It will be an orderly transition. This transition period will not affect any citizen or participant. This transition also brings with it some guidance on what the program will be like, how it will work, all the details,” the administrator said, adding that it will work similarly to what is now commonly known as the Family Card.

Fradera added that they are now evaluating whether any legislative action will be needed at the state level, although he believes that may not be the case since ADSEF is already responsible for administering the PAN and it will be more about changing the program than creating new

In fact, he clarified that, as is the case in each state with its own agency, SNAP in Puerto Rico will be under ADSEF, which will work with USDA and FNS, the federal agencies responsible for distributing and disbursing funds and overseeing the program. “But the entire program operation will remain as we are now, under the leadership of the Family Department, at ADSEF.”

Fradera went on to clarify that joining SNAP would allow Puerto Rico to receive a much larger amount for the program.

“Essentially, Puerto Rico has received a small block grant increase in recent years. Now it is 2.8 billion dollars. But with the transition to SNAP (they will be) practically at about $4.5 billion. Puerto Rico will be able to receive and help more families to provide them with food assistance,” he explained, noting that by ceasing to be a “block grant,” they would be able to expand eligibility tables, something they cannot do at this time. ..

“With SNAP, we’ll have direct access to funds so we can continue to help families without fear of running out of budgets to help them. Income tables and requirements for families will be wider. This will double the benefit,” he repeated.

He added that in effect, SNAP “will bring with it an employment program that targets certain participants between the ages of 18 and 49 who are able to work, so that we can provide them with the tools to enter and integrate into the workforce while still being rewarded.”

He took the opportunity to explain that, contrary to false rumours, many current PAN members, although they report income from their jobs, continue to receive PAN benefits. Even if the participant’s income exceeds the income limit, he will not lose the benefit immediately, but will be adjusted in its payment in stages, over 18 months.

To give an idea of ​​who currently receives a PAN and the amount of this benefit, the ADSEF administrator gave two examples: a person who lives alone, whose monthly income is equal to or less than $619 after the deductions calculated by the technician, and who Among these criteria, such as age, child care, medication, health, housing, etc. In another example, a family of four, adults or minors, your eligible monthly income after deductions could be up to $2,206.

Fradera did not provide specific numbers on how much the limits for eligibility or increased SNAP benefits could be expanded, but suggested they could be similar to those in Hawaii or the U.S. Virgin Islands because they have conditions in similar geographic locations. which is taken into account when establishing program criteria.

According to a USDA study that Fradera cited to suggest that a transition to SNAP could bring about 200,000 families in Puerto Rico into the program, the transition could take about 10 years.

However, the ADSEF administrator was much more optimistic and assured that with the steps they are taking, the transition should take place “in five years or less”.

“Our staff has prepared. We are working on this transition, making our contribution. We have a great working team of colleagues and colleagues who are committed to making this transition happen for the benefit of our families, our minors and our seniors,” insisted Fradera.