While it’s not immediately clear why the money has not been allocated to the American territory, President Trump initially opposed the bill, demanding border wall funding in exchange. He had said he didn’t want “a single dollar” in aid to the island. The administration characterized aid as excessive and unnecessary.
Trump has a famous hostility to Puerto Rico, but he’s hardly alone in dismissing the territory’s concerns. The mainland has used the island as a piggy bank to fund tax cuts for the wealthy and mixes this with such systemic neglect that decaying infrastructure was as instrumental as the hurricanes themselves when a devastating storm season kept Puerto Rico without power for nearly a year.
This delay disrupts basic services to American citizens. That point must be pressed, as some in the White House appear to be unaware that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. And while healthcare on the island is nearing a calamity, food stamp funding has already run out. More than a million Puerto Ricans have seen drastic cuts to nutrition assistance.
“The situation is dire, and we are ready to submit either a plan or an amendment to an existing plan as soon as we get directions from FNS [Food and Nutrition Services] in order to speed up the disbursement of the funds,” said Glorimar Andújar Matos, executive director of the Departamento de la Familia, which oversees nutrition assistance. “Given Puerto Rico’s unfair treatment in federal programs, we are pushing to receive and utilize the funds as soon as possible.”
It is unclear if Puerto Rico needs to amend its nutrition assistance plan, and if so, in what way. But there are few other reasons for such a delay, says former FNS undersecretary Kevin Concannon.
“It’s normally rapidly approved, because you’re trying to mitigate the impact of hunger and food insecurity,” said Concannon. “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.”
It is unclear when the Trump administration will disburse funds in accordance with the bill Trump himself signed into law.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.