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Puerto Rico's leaders slam Trump administration for opposing food assistance funding

Puerto Rico: The exodus after Hurricane Maria

Washington — Puerto Rico's leaders are slamming the Trump administration for opposing $600 million in food assistance funding and calling it "excessive and unnecessary." 

In a video message addressed to President Trump on Thursday, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló said, "There is a patent, severe lack of knowledge regarding the inequalities sustained by the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and of the use of the recovery funding in all the reports that have been attributed to your administration."

Rosselló asked the president to meet with him so he can "correct the ill-informed advice and disconcerting notions you are getting on Puerto Rico, particularly on the NAP program, which provides much-needed nutritional assistance to over one million U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico."

The Nutrition Assistance for Puerto Rico (NAP) — the island's version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — is a multi-billion dollar program operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), one of the agencies affected by the ongoing government shutdown. The popular program provides supplemental income to hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans so they can meet their nutritional needs.

Since Hurricane Maria struck the island in 2017, Rosselló and other Puerto Rican officials have lobbied Congress for more disaster aid funding for NAP. The prolonged government shutdown — the longest in U.S. history — has since exacerbated concerns among some that the program may run out of funds.

But the White House said Wednesday in a statement that the proposed $600 million in funding for NAP, which was included in a bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House to reopen the government, is "excessive and unnecessary." The administration also cited increased funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to outline its opposition to the spending measure. 

"The only supplemental appropriations the Administration is seeking at this time are those that would address the ongoing security and humanitarian crisis along the southern border," the Office of Management and Budget, which operates within the executive branch, wrote in the statement Wednesday.

The legislation is unlikely to reach the president's desk because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged he will not take up any spending bill that is not backed by the White House.

In his impassioned message to the president, Rosselló said more than one million Puerto Ricans are in desperate need of NAP services. The governor also rebuked Mr. Trump for "falsely alleging that our island is not in need of any additional resources from recovery funds."

Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner and non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Jenniffer González, a Republican, said the White House was mistaken in calling the funding "excessive and unnecessary." She added that the only way to dismantle the "second-class" treatment endured by Puerto Rico's approximately 3.2 million U.S. citizens is for the U.S. territory to formally join the union as a state.

"The only permanent solution to the discrimination in NAP — and the Administration's opposition to additional NAP funding after Puerto Rico's disaster of a century — is statehood. Without votes and equality within the U.S., Puerto Rico will always be vulnerable to discrimination and second-class treatment," González wrote in a statement Thursday.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a progressive firebrand whose scathing rebukes of the Trump administration's handling of Hurricane Maria recovery efforts catapulted her to national fame, was more blunt in her criticism of the White House's opposition to the spending bill.

"I was fed up a long time ago when Trump treated us poorly in Puerto Rico. @POTUS WE DESERVE TO BE TREATED LIKE PEOPLE. YOU ARE NOT A PLANTATION OWNER AND WE ARE NOT YOUR SLAVES. DAMN IT!," Yulín Cruz tweeted Thursday.

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