November 29, 2023

On Hurricane Maria anniversary Puerto Ricans push Congress on tax breaks, food security


According to the groups, Hurricanes Maria, Fiona and Covid-19 made clear how Puerto Rico’s overreliance on food imports — 85% of what’s consumed on the island is imported — left families vulnerable as food supplies dwindled when shipments couldn’t reach the island.

Congress is currently considering a farm bill that would set the legal framework for agricultural and food policy in U.S. and its territories for the next five years.

Puerto Rican farmers and their allies are pushing for the U.S. territory to transition to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP or food stamps, which is used in the 50 states.

Currently, Puerto Rico’s Nutrition Assistance Program is funded through block grants that can’t be readjusted after they’ve been approved, even if there’s increased need after a natural disaster like a hurricane.

This leaves the food assistance program that benefits nearly half (46 percent) of the island’s population facing funding cliffs almost every year, putting the local government in the tough position of either keeping all enrollees in the program and cutting back their benefits or reducing the number of enrollees in order to keep current benefit rates.

Advocates are also looking to include a legislative proposal that would maximize nutritional assistance funds by allocating half of all federal funds granted to Puerto Rico through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support farmers through the Puerto Rico Food Sovereignty Program, according to the Chicago-based advocacy group the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

According to the group, the proposal has garnered the support of Rep. Delia Ramírez, D-Ill., 13 Puerto Rican mayors and the University of Puerto Rico’s Agricultural Science College as well as elected officials in several states and the Sustainable Agriculture Community Land Trust.

Groups are also calling for an end to tax incentives under Act 60, designed to attract wealthy investors from outside the island, as well as corporations that could export goods and services. 

One of the taxes provides qualifying businesses, foreign or local, that have an office in Puerto Rico a 4% fixed income tax rate for exporting services.

The other more controversial tax break allows individual investors who haven’t lived on the island between 2006 and 2012 to get a 0% tax rate on capital gains if they purchase a residence and live there at least half of the year.

The government has defended its modest economic impact, citing it’s generated over 30,000 new jobs, while opponents say the “predatory tax evasion” has hurt Puerto Rico as well as mainland states and has raised real estate prices on the island.

“While Puerto Ricans are losing their homes and communities, the U.S. Treasury, states and local governments are losing much needed tax revenues to fund essential services,” said Federico de Jesús of Power4Puerto Rico and director of the video project LosingPuertoRico, which calls for the end of such incentives.

The project released a new video Wednesday ahead of the “plenazo” rally.

“The right course of action is for Congress to stop this unfair tax haven that is allowing tax evaders to cheat and displace us from our own communities,” Sandra Cruz-García, general coordinator of VAMOS, an Puerto Rico-based grassroots organization working on displacement issues, said in a statement.

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