Durbin, Duckworth Press AG Secretary To Quickly Provide Puerto Rico With Food Aid

CHICAGO – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) joined Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and five additional colleagues in a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to request that he use all available resources to swiftly provide Puerto Rico with much needed food aid. 

In the letter, the senators wrote, “The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria has left behind a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, with millions of people without power and many families in desperate need of food assistance.  We laud your efforts and those of the USDA staff under your direction as they have worked to support our fellow citizens in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  We ask now that you redouble your efforts to aid the citizens of Puerto Rico in their time of greatest need.” 

The letter calls for eight specific actions to be undertaken by the Department of Agriculture.  These emergency flexibilities are consistent with what has traditionally been granted for other natural disasters, including most recently for Hurricane Harvey.

  1. Assist local Puerto Rican authorities as they seek to implement Disaster SNAP (D­ SNAP) under the provisions of the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) so that benefits are available for individuals who have left the Island and for those who remain, as conditions become more stable.
  2. Expedite the delivery of existing USDA Foods orders and continue to assess the degree of loss of existing USDA Foods warehouse stores so that damaged commodities can be replaced quickly.
  3. Support efforts to establish emergency feeding centers in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), other Federal agencies, local governments, and not-for-profit entities.
  4. Provide infant and toddler formula and foods sufficient to meet project needs and coordinate with FEMA to ensure timely delivery of the products.
  5. Resupply and reinitiate household delivery of commodities as conditions permit.
  6. Permit foods to be substituted in place of WIC approved foods that are currently unavailable.
  7. Extend the time period to report food loss through individual affidavit and replace destroyed WIC foods.
  8. Provide all necessary administrative flexibility, including waiver of congregate and nutrition standards, to ensure all school age children may receive meals under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the Child and Adult Cared Feeding Programs (CACFP).

Earlier this week, Durbin and Duckworth wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, along with nine of their colleagues, requesting immediate action on disaster relief legislation for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  They also joined 38 of their Senate colleagues in a letter to President Trump to express deep concern about the dire humanitarian situation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and outlined several areas where strong and decisive leadership is needed.

The Illinois Air National Guard has deployed a team to provide telecommunication assistance, food, water, tents, and cots to Puerto Rico.  Illinois has the seventh largest population of Puerto Ricans in the United States, with more than 200,000 residents of Puerto Rican heritage.

In addition to Durbin, Duckworth, and Gillibrand, the letter to Secretary Perdue was also signed by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

The full letter can be found here.