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Nearly 1.4 Million Puerto Ricans Facing 'Dangerous' Food Stamp Cuts as Trump and Congress Fail to Act

"The fact that we've had to reduce benefits to those that need it the most is alarming. Puerto Ricans are being treated unequally and that is unfair."

Residents gather and receive food and water, provided by FEMA, in a neighborhood without grid electricity or running water on October 17, 2017 in San Isidro, Puerto Rico. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

With hurricane relief funding stalled in Congress due to opposition from the Trump administration, Puerto Rico has reportedly started slashing food stamps in an attempt to preserve the life-saving program.

The move could harm as many as 1.4 million Puerto Ricans—including hundreds of thousands of children and elderly people.

"This is not about politics—this is literally about people's lives and their ability to feed their children and their elders in Puerto Rico."
—Carmen Yulín Cruz, San Juan mayor

"This is not about politics—this is literally about people's lives and their ability to feed their children and their elders in Puerto Rico," Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, told the Washington Post. "The need is still there."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued an urgent call for congressional action in response to news of the cuts.

"Puerto Rico needs food assistance funding due to the hurricanes which devastated the island. Some 1.4 million U.S. citizens will face large cuts to their food assistance benefits, 230,000 will lose the benefits entirely," Sanders tweeted. "We must act now to end this crisis."

Food stamp use soared in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island and—according to one study—may have killed as many as 6,000 people.

Due to lack of assistance from the federal government, Puerto Rican officials are reportedly cutting food stamps to pre-hurricane levels.

"It is dangerous. People don't have enough money to buy food already."
—Socorro Rivera, La Fondita de Jesús

"For a senior citizen who lives alone, their benefits have dipped from $194 per month to $112 per month," Buzzfeed reported, citing Puerto Rican authorities. "A family of four with a monthly income of around $2,000 has seen their benefits drop from $649 per month to $410 per month."

Socorro Rivera, executive director of the San Juan non-profit La Fondita de Jesús, told the Post that "a lot of people will have severe problems" if the Congress and the Trump administration do not act quickly to provide relief.

"It is dangerous. People don't have enough money to buy food already," Rivera said.

The reductions in food stamp assistance come just over a month after the Trump administration dismissed as "excessive and unnecessary" House Democrats' plan to provide $600 million in funding for Puerto Rico's Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP).

According to the Post, the White House is now backing a broad Republican proposal that includes $600 million in food stamp aid to Puerto Rico, but there is no vote scheduled on the measure.

"Puerto Rico's food stamp program is uniquely dependent on periodic help from Congress, though the island does not have a voting representative in either the House or Senate, or a say in presidential elections," the Post reported. "Even if approved by Congress, the additional $600 million allocation would only fund the island's food stamps program until September 2019."

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), more than 300,000 children could be effected by the food stamp cuts.

"The fact that we've had to reduce benefits to those that need it the most is alarming," George Laws-García, deputy director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, told Buzzfeed. "Puerto Ricans are being treated unequally and that is unfair."

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