With Pandemic Fueling Increased Food Insecurity, MAZON Announces New Investments to End Hunger in Puerto Rico

October 21, 2021

With pandemic-related disruptions to food distribution and access as well as rising unemployment leaving as many as four in ten families in Puerto Rico hungry, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger announced an investment of $200,000 in efforts on the island to stem the tide of persistent food insecurity. The national Jewish anti-hunger organization has elevated this issue as one of its top public policy priorities at the federal level.

The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico has been plagued by a long history of deep poverty, food insecurity, and economic crisis, and the island has grappled with more than a decade of uninterrupted economic decline. Even before the COVID-19 public health and economic crises increased hunger and hardship on the island, Puerto Rico was reeling from the destruction left by a series of earthquakes in January 2020 as well as Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. Though about 44% of the island’s population lives in poverty, a federal block grant prevents these U.S. citizens from receiving the same nutrition benefits as those living in states on the mainland.

“The people of Puerto Rico have weathered multiple and overlapping crises in recent years, including Hurricane Maria, bankruptcy, and the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in an alarming increase in food insecurity around the island,” said Abby J. Leibman, President and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “As part of MAZON’s values-driven mission to advocate for food-insecure populations often forgotten by mainstream policy discussions, we are redoubling efforts to address food insecurity in Puerto Rico and working closely with partners on and off the island to advocate for equal access to federal programs. Since 1985, MAZON has worked to build a strong and resilient anti-hunger advocacy infrastructure in diverse regions across the United States. By investing in three excellent locally-led organizations — the Center for New Economy, Espacios Abierto, and The Youth Development Institute — MAZON will help to amplify the voices of those in Puerto Rico who have been ignored for too long. We are proud to uplift and empower these partners to fight for the structural change we need to end hunger in all our communities — including U.S. territories.”

“We are distraught over the hunger crisis in Puerto Rico, particularly the fact that people on the island are denied access to SNAP and must rely on a separate program called the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP), which is extremely limited in scope, structure, and funding,” said Mia Hubbard, Vice President of Programs at MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “MAZON has always focused on ensuring that all people have equitable access to the resources they need to feed themselves and their families, and we are eager to bring our decades of leadership and expertise to advance equity for those facing hunger in Puerto Rico. The U.S. has a 100-year colonial relationship with Puerto Rico, and that has created a false narrative that those on the island are dependent on the mainland — but the reality is that we should be investing in their desire for self-determination. ”

MAZON’s newest round of partnership grants to three organizations based in Puerto Rico increases the agency’s five-year total giving through its Emerging Advocacy Fund to more than $6.6 million. Across the U.S., MAZON’s innovative partnership grants prioritize partners in regions with the highest food insecurity. These partnership grants are structured to increase or sustain staff capacity at anti-hunger organizations throughout the country, helping to advance long-term solutions to hunger in local communities.

The recipients of MAZON’s partnership grants in Puerto Rico are:

The Center for New Economy (CNE) – CNE is Puerto Rico’s first policy think tank, and a leader in research, policy analysis, and advocacy on key low-income government programs like SNAP and Nutrition Assistance Program, as well as broader anti-poverty programs like EITC and Medicaid. MAZON’s support will enable CNE to increase staff resources dedicated to food policy advocacy and expand its research on the impact of greater equity in access to federal food programs for Puerto Rico’s food-insecure households.

Espacios Abierto (EA) – EA seeks to achieve economic security for low- and middle-income communities by strengthening the ability of Puerto Ricans to participate in fiscal and budget deliberations that impact their lives. MAZON’s partnership grant will allow EA to hire a food security policy analyst to shape policy solutions, advocacy activities and community engagement in food policy issues on the island.

The Youth Development Institute (YDI) – YDI is the only organization in Puerto Rico dedicated exclusively to promoting public policies focused on strengthening the economic security of low-income families with children and young people, and drastically reducing the 58% child poverty rate on the island. With MAZON’s support, YDI will be able to hire a policy analyst to expand their local and federal advocacy work on food security issues.