The island would not need Congress to step in to fund its food stamps and Medicaid programs if it were a state. For U.S. states, the federal government has committed to funding these programs’ needs, whatever the cost and without needing to take a vote. But Puerto Rico instead funds its programs through a block grant from the federal government, which need to be regularly renewed, and also gives food stamp benefits about 40 percent smaller than those of U.S. states.
After initially vowing to reject the food stamp funding, President Trump has agreed to the emergency request to help Senate Republicans pass a broader disaster relief package, which may be taken up for a vote this week.
But at an Oval Office meeting on Feb. 22, Trump asked top advisers for ways to limit federal support from going to Puerto Rico, believing it is taking money that should be going to the mainland, according to senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of the presidents’ private remarks.
The meeting — an afternoon session focused on Housing and Urban Development grants — ended abruptly, and Trump has continued to ask aides how much money the island will get. Then, Trump said he wanted the money to only fortify the electric grid there.
Trump has also privately signaled he will not approve any additional help for Puerto Rico beyond the food stamp money, setting up a congressional showdown with Democrats who have pushed for more expansive help for the island.
A senior administration official with direct knowledge of the meeting described Trump’s stance: “He doesn’t want another single dollar going to the island.”
In addition to the obvious, the next Democratic government has to give Puerto Rico an opportunity to choose statehood.