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 Programa de Asistencia Nutricional.
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”.
Puerto Rico Earned Income Tax Credit #
Puerto Rico enacted a local EITC in 2018. Puerto Rican families are not allowed to claim the federal EITC because they don’t pay federal income taxes. This means that the credit could not be set as a percentage of the federal EITC.
Like state credits, it is substantially smaller than the federal EITC — between $300 and $2,000, 2 depending on family size and income.
The American Rescue Plan Act, enacted in March 2021, extended a federal supplement to help Puerto Rico expand its local EITC. Maximum credit allowed is between $1,500 to $6,500 based on family size.
Eligibility has also been expanded to include those who are self-employed and workers without children in the home who are age 19 and older. Any Puerto Rico resident can calculate his or her potential EITC benefits with this Puerto Rico EITC calculator.
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. 3
Department of the Family
PO Box 11398
San Juan, PR 00910-1398
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. 4
The average monthly amount a 3-member family may receive is $2,220, out of which $111 can be withdrawn as cash that they can use to purchase medicine, cover rent expenses and buy gas, among other items.
How do I get food stamps in Puerto Rico?
To apply for food stamps, call 311 from within Puerto Rico or apply on line at https://servicios.adsef.pr.gov. You may also call Puerto Rico Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP) at (787) 289-1199.
Puerto Rico Medicaid #
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 January 2021, 1.4 million people were enrolled in the Medicaid and CHIP program in Puerto Rico — approximately 50 percent of the population. 5
Unlike the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico is limited to a low, fixed amount of federal Medicaid funding each year — often severely underfunded to cover half of its population. 6 It does, however, provide certain optional benefits, including dental services and prescription drugs.
Eligibility rules in Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program differ in some ways from those in the states. Puerto Rico currently provides coverage to adults and pregnant women with incomes up to 138% of the Puerto Rico Poverty Level (PRPL). 5 Puerto Rico’s eligibility for parents is slightly higher than the federal level at 50% of PRPL. 7
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.
To apply call the Call Center Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm to request an evaluation appointment.
CHIP CALL CENTER
(787) 641-4224 – TTY: (787) 625-6955
Puerto Rico Head Start #
Puerto Rico’s Head Start (HS) and Early Head Start (EHS) are currently the most important programs targeting young children on the Island. About 30,000 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
Puerto Rico Section 8 #
Puerto Rico’s 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 Insurance #
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 $190. 9
Those who are unemployed due to COVID-19 may get an additional $300 a week on top of their regular unemployment benefit through September 6, 2021.
To file an initial claim for PR unemployment benefits, call PR DOL’s Interactive Voice System at (787) 945-7900 during regular working hours, from 7:00 am to 4:30 pm, Monday to Friday except holidays.
The initial claim for unemployment benefits can also be filed electronically using the following link.
Puerto Rico Paid Family Leave #
The disability law permits employee contributions at the rate of 0.3% of wages up to $9,000. The maximum weekly benefit is $113 ($55 for agricultural workers). These statutory amounts haven’t changed much since July 1972.
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 (2019), Fact Sheet.
- CBPP, Puerto Rico on Verge of Implementing an EITC.
- ELNUEVODIA.COM, TANF Aid Does Not Discourage Employment.
- USDA, Examination of Cash Nutrition Assistance Program Benefits in Puerto Rico.
- MacPac, Medicaid and CHIP in Puerto Rico.
- Reuters, U.S. Congress to give Puerto Rico short-term Medicaid help.
- Congressional Research Service, Puerto Rico and Health Care Finance: FAQs
- NHSA, 2017 Puerto Rico Head Start Profile.
- The National Law Review, Puerto Rico Issues FAQs on Unemployment Benefits during COVID-19 Crisis.