The Trump administration has granted a waiver so that Puerto Ricans can use food stamp benefits to purchase prepared food in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
In a letter dated Sept. 30 and obtained by The Hill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said recipients of the island’s Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP) would be able to use their benefits to purchase hot food at any store through November.
Food stamp recipients are usually prohibited from buying hot foods and other items that can be eaten “in store,” such as sandwiches, soup or pizza.
While NAP is intended for people to purchase food in grocery stores and prepare it at home, USDA officials said they understood that could not happen yet due to the storm, as much of the island remains without electricity.
“We understand that at this point in time all food retail outlets in Puerto Rico are challenged by a lack of inventory, power and connectivity issues,” the USDA said in its letter. “Additionally, ATMs are experiencing connectivity issues and limits on cash.”
There are nearly 1.3 million people on food stamps in Puerto Rico — almost 40 percent of its population, according to federal figures.
The New York Times reported earlier Tuesday that Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said the waiver was denied. However, it’s unclear if he made those comments before the Sept. 30 letter was released.
Rosselló said 95 percent of Puerto Rico still remains without power, more than a week after Hurricane Maria hammered the island.
Puerto Ricans currently receive 20 percent of their food stamp benefit in cash. Current legislation called for that to drop to 15 percent on Oct. 1.
USDA officials told The Hill they denied a request to increase the cash portion to 50 percent, and instead allowed the 20 percent cash portion to continue for two months.
“While we are able to provide some flexibility for NAP in a disaster response, there is a need to maintain the overall intent of the NAP as defined in the authorizing legislation,” the letter said.