Puerto Rico is distinguished by its poverty and joblessness, which are far worse than in any of the 50 states.
In comparison, the island is indeed poorer than the poorest state of the United States, with 45% of its population living below the poverty line.1
Until recent years, Puerto Rico’s economy relies mainly on federal aid from the United States — receiving more than $6.5 billion annually in federal aid.
A substantial portion of this amount is earmarked for public welfare, including TANF, Head Start, and a food stamp system called the Nutrition Assistance for Puerto Rico program.
More than one-third of the island’s residents are on food stamps. This data reflects the sheer number of Puerto Ricans who are living on welfare. As a result, the island is often known as the “Welfare Island”.
1 Puerto Rico Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
TANF or Asistencia Temporal Para Familias Necesitadas, is a relatively small cash transfer program in Puerto Rico that operates along the lines of similar programs on the U.S. mainland.
Unlike the U.S., Puerto Rico and the rest of the territories do not have Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Therefore, TANF program in Puerto Rico has been mainly a social safety net for elderly and persons with disabilities rather than temporary assistance.
The monthly payments from the TANF program amount to around $200 per month, but they are much lower, for example, in the case of the elderly ($66), visually impaired ($68), and disabled ($32) people.2
Department of the Family
PO Box 11398
San Juan, PR 00910-1398
2 Nutrition Assistance for Puerto Rico (NAP)
Nutrition Assistance for Puerto Rico (NAP) or Programa de Asistencia Nutricional (PAN) in Spanish is a federal assistance nutritional program provided by the USDA solely to Puerto Rico.
Unlike the traditional SNAP, Puerto Rico adopts a system which requires at least 75% of benefits are used for food at certified retailers and allows the remaining 25% to be withdrawn as cash.3
The average monthly amount a 4-member family may receive is $240, out of which $60 can be withdrawn as cash that they can use to purchase medicine, cover rent expenses and buy gas, among other items.
To apply for NAP, call 311 from within Puerto Rico or apply on line at www.adsef.gobierno.pr. You may also call Puerto Rico Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP) at (787) 289-1199.
Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program, Mi Salud, is a program through which the federal government provides assistance to states and territories to pay the medical expenses of certain low-income groups.
Owing in part to high unemployment and poverty rates, almost half of Puerto Ricans rely on public insurance. As of June 2015, 1.6 million people are enrolled in the Medicaid and CHIP program in Puerto Rico.4
Eligibility rules in Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program differ in some ways from those in the states. Puerto Rico currently provides coverage to children and pregnant women with incomes up to 133% of the Puerto Rico Poverty Level (PRPL).6 Puerto Rico’s eligibility for parents is slightly higher than the federal level at 50% of PRPL.7
4 Puerto Rico CHIP (Medicaid for Children)
Puerto Rico also provides Medicaid-expansion CHIP coverage to children under age 19 with family incomes up to roughly 266% of PRPL as well as coverage to aged, blind, and disabled individuals through the medically needy option.
Where to Apply for Medicaid?
To apply call the Call Center Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm to request an evaluation appointment.
(787) 641-4224 – TTY: (787) 625-6955
5 Puerto Rico Head Start
Head Start (HS) and Early Head Start (EHS) are currently the most important programs targeting young children on the Island. More than 36,000 eligible children receive services in Puerto Rico under the Head Start program.8
The “eligible population” to participate in the Head Start (HS) and Early Head Start (EHS) program includes children from birth to five years of age, as well as expectant mothers, who are from families with incomes below 130% of poverty by federal standards
Additionally, children from homeless families, and/or receiving public assistance are eligible to receive services.
For information on how to apply, please contact
Phone: (787) 721-7000
Puerto Rico Head Start State Collaboration Office Office of the Governor
Bienestar Social, La Fortaleza
P.O. Box 9020082
San Juan, PR 00902-0082
6 Puerto Rico Section 8
Section 8 provides rental vouchers to low-income families living in privately-owned rental properties, paying rent according to a federal formula: rent, plus utilities, must be no more than 30% of the household’s income.
The Public Housing Administration or Administración de Vivienda Pública, or AVP, in Spanish, administers the voucher and, with funds received from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), pays the remainder of the rent amount directly to the landlord.
Families wanting to participate must first be included in a “Waiting List”. Families must therefore “wait until their turn” for eligibility as the PHA selects families by order of application date, a process which in Puerto Rico may take several years.
Puerto Rico Public Housing Administration
Administración de Vivienda Pública
Puerto Rico unemployment benefits lag significantly behind those in U.S. states. The maximum weekly benefits that unemployed Puerto Ricans could receive is no more than $133.
Update: Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello Nevares has approved legislation that increases unemployment benefits for laid off workers from a maximum of $133 to $240 a week.9
To file an initial claim for PR unemployment benefits, call (787) 945-7900 during regular working hours, from 7:00 am to 4:30 pm, Monday to Friday except holidays.
8 2-1-1 de Puerto Rico
2-1-1 of Puerto Rico connects Puerto Ricans in need with information and referrals about social and health cares services in the Island. This service is also available through the toll free number: 1-877-722-9832 or 787-268-5353.
By dialing 2-1-1, you may request information on agencies that address problems such as need of medical equipment, unemployment, domestic violence, child abuse, drug addiction, abandonment of the elderly, homelessness, or food, among others.
- U.S. Census. Fact Finder Puerto Rico (2015), Fact Sheet
- ELNUEVODIA.COM, TANF Aid Does Not Discourage Employment
- USDA, Examination of Cash Nutrition Assistance Program Benefits in Puerto Rico
- CBPP, Addressing Puerto Rico’s Medicaid Funding Shortfalls
- Reuters, U.S. Congress to give Puerto Rico short-term Medicaid help
- MACPAC, Medicaid and CHIP in Puerto Rico
- Congressional Research Service, Puerto Rico and Health Care Finance: FAQs
- NIEER, PUERTO RICO Head Start & Early Head Start 2014-2015 Overview
- Associated Press, Puerto Rico’s governor signs much-debated labor reform law