Disability and Poverty in Puerto RicoAccording to the U.S. National Council on Disability (NCD), nearly one in six citizens in Puerto Rico have a disability. This equates to 22% of the population. People with disabilities (PWD) are twice as likely to live in poverty. With a national poverty rate of 44%, PWD in Puerto Rico face tremendous disadvantages, warranting a necessary examination into implementable solutions.

The Price of Poverty

There are six categorizations for disabilities: hearing, visual, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care and independent living.

According to the 2017 Disability Status Report on Puerto Rico, individuals with cognitive disabilities have the most prevalent poverty rate of 58.2%. However, despite having the lowest poverty rate for PWD, visual disabilities still result in a 52.2% rate. While the poverty rate has decreased slightly, dropping to just below 50% in 2022, there is still a concerning link between disability and poverty in Puerto Rico.

Explanations for the levels of poverty in Puerto Rico

First, there are minimal job opportunities available for PWD in Puerto Rico. In 2022, the National Council on Disability noted that only about 23.7% of Puerto Ricans with disabilities play an active role in the workforce. This is a significant contrast to the 36% of PWD in the U.S.

Second, disability accommodations are costly. The NCD found that “the cost of specialized [durable medical equipment] was 11% to 58% higher in Puerto Rico versus the [U.S.].” As of the 2021 U.S. Census Bureau, Puerto Rico’s annual income per capita is approximately $14,000, making it a massive financial burden to pay for expensive equipment like electric wheelchairs.

In the mainland U.S., citizens can qualify for supplemental income and financial assistance if they have a disability and/or fall below the annual income threshold. Despite being a U.S. territory, Puerto Ricans are not entitled to these same benefits.

For example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly colloquially known as “food stamps,” is not available in Puerto Rico. Instead, the territory is allocated a block grant, which has not been adjusted for inflation or unforeseeable disasters.

In addition, an April 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision officially excluded Puerto Ricans from the federal Supplemental Security Income program (SSI). SSI provides direct financial assistance to low-income U.S. citizens with disabilities. This vote further entrenches the exclusion and marginalization of Puerto Ricans with disabilities.

Progress Toward Equality

In lieu of SSI, the government allocates funds to the Aid to the Aged, Blind, and Disabled (AABD) program. AABD’s supplemental assistance aims to meet the basic, daily needs of PWD in Puerto Rico. To receive this aid, individuals have to endure a “physical or mental impairment that will likely not improve and which prevents them from performing their previous job or any other paid work” and own less than $2,000 in total assets.

The Division of Human Development and Disability (DHDD) also provides early diagnosis and intervention services to aid children with disabilities throughout their development. One example of DHDD projects is the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) programs. EDHIs work to examine a child’s risk for hearing loss and ensure an appropriate diagnosis and accommodations are put in place.

While these services show a commitment to aiding PWDs in Puerto Rico, assistance programs such as the AABD are limited. The funding is meager and split between adult assistance, foster care and adoption assistance. Instead of the $750 for an SSI recipient, AABD participants only receive $75. Therefore, more comprehensive efforts are necessary to alleviate the impact of disability and poverty in Puerto Rico.

Despite challenges, there are gradual improvements in living conditions for Puerto Ricans with disabilities. Overall, the ongoing efforts of both the U.S. and Puerto Rico hold the potential to reduce poverty and enhance the quality of life for Puerto Ricans.

– Katrina Girod 
Photo: Pixabay

Charities in Puerto RicoPuerto Rico is an island in the Caribbean that is classified as an unincorporated United States territory. The country has a beautiful landscape consisting of tropical beaches and scenic mountains, which attracts visitors year-round. Puerto Rico’s geographic location is within the hurricane belt, which makes the island especially vulnerable to sea level rise and severe storms. For decades, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has struggled to recover from a legacy of colonialism and a massive accumulation of debt. Other factors that have negatively affected Puerto Rico’s economic prosperity include the COVID-19 pandemic, the damaging effects of multiple severe storms and a declining population. In 2021, over 40% of Puerto Rico’s population lived in poverty.

Below are five charities operating in Puerto Rico that aim to address the needs of people in Puerto Rico.

Hispanic Federation

The Hispanic Federation is a nonprofit organization that is committed to helping Hispanic families and empowering Hispanic communities. Over 98% of Puerto Rico’s residents identify as Hispanic or Latino.

The Hispanic Federation focuses on uplifting Hispanic and Latino communities by working within the areas of education, health, civic engagement, government advocacy, economic empowerment and the environment.

The charity is a coalition of local organizations that help people through processes consisting of “public education, advocacy, and voter mobilization”. The Hispanic Federation works to advance the interests of Hispanic communities and help alleviate their problems by providing long-term solutions. The organization is actively involved in Puerto Rico and has invested $43 million into addressing the needs of its residents.

The Hispanic Federation is also heavily involved in long-term recovery efforts for Puerto Rico’s communities that have been impacted by severe hurricanes such as Hurricane Maria.

Foundation for Puerto Rico

This charity is a nonprofit focused on economic development in Puerto Rico. The Foundation for Puerto Rico aims to improve local economies on the island in an effort to uplift people through direct investment. The charity is committed to initiatives that make transformational impacts on Puerto Rico’s economy in order to provide long-term social and economic empowerment. For example, its initiative titled the “whole community resilience planning program” works with the Puerto Rico Department of Housing to strategically develop and improve communities on the island that are at risk of climate and environmental disasters.

The organization emphasizes local community participation and inclusivity in order to address the needs of people in Puerto Rico in an effective manner.

Taller Salud

This nonprofit organization is a feminist community-based group that is dedicated to improving women’s health in Puerto Rico. Taller Salud operates under the idea that women are at the center of rebuilding efforts within communities in Puerto Rico. The organization works to improve women’s access to health care, as well as uplift communities through activism and empowerment. The charity was also actively involved in providing food and supplies to people in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Fiona’s devastation.

Taller Salud is guided by a method of gender perspective that prioritizes the needs of people in Puerto Rico while taking into account the role that gender dynamics and cultural relationships play in community improvement. The organization works to promote gender equality and social justice while improving women’s health needs within Puerto Rico.

The charity works to achieve its goals through community awareness campaigns, community outreach initiatives and advocacy efforts.

La Maraña

This nonprofit organization promotes the inclusion of Puerto Rican voices when building cities and communities on the island. This charity is led by women and focuses on design and community-based planning. La Maraña collaboratively designs homes and communities that prioritize the needs of local residents. The charity raises money to construct and complete these projects, building new homes for people who lost their previous homes to hurricanes and severe storms. La Maraña emphasizes community-led recovery efforts, as well as advocacy efforts across Puerto Rico.

Asesores Financieros Comunitarios (Community Financial Advisors)

Based in San Juan, Asesores Financieros Comunitarios (Community Financial Advisors) provides technical training and assistance to community-based nonprofit organizations in Puerto Rico.

The charity works to help other charities operate and succeed by providing assistance with accounting and administration. Trained accountants, volunteers and university students in this charity work to provide other nonprofit organizations with technical help and promote economic sustainability. Financial advisors who work for this charity are aiming to expand Puerto Rico’s capacity for nonprofit organizations so that struggling people in Puerto Rico can receive the most help. Through training programs and workshops, they work to promote the well-being of impoverished people that need humanitarian assistance from charities operating in Puerto Rico.

These five charities operating in Puerto Rico aim to benefit people who desperately need help.

Dylan Priday
Photo: Unsplash

Poverty in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island and United States territory which has struggled with poverty long before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, of Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million people, 43.1% of the total population and 57% of children lived in poverty. For comparison, the U.S. national poverty rate was drastically lower at 13.1%. Poverty in Puerto Rico has become a chronic issue as a long-term recession resulted in massive debt. The island has also endured multiple disasters, the most recent being Hurricane Maria and COVID-19. These hardships have weakened Puerto Rico’s economy, infrastructure and health systems and have left vulnerable groups even more susceptible to poverty. However, Puerto Ricans have demonstrated remarkable resilience and current efforts are helping to improve this situation. Here are three factors perpetuating poverty and COVID-19 in Puerto Rico, and what some are doing to change these circumstances for the better.


While external factors have exacerbated poverty in Puerto Rico, the current crisis has been building in conjunction with a decade-long recession. Economic growth fell by 10% between 2004 and 2018, with an unemployment rate above 8% and a declining population compounding this deficiency. Some elements such as the encouragement of Puerto Rico’s reliance on U.S. loans to fill federal funding gaps, a 1996 change that mandated Puerto Rican businesses begin paying taxesin contrast to their previous tax-free status under the Internal Revenue Code Section 936and the 2008 financial crisis, which further lowered tax revenues and caused large-scale unemployment, have mainly fueled this debt crisis. These issues have culminated to create massive debt and a chronic recession that has exacerbated poverty within the territory.

The most notable improvement effort occurred with the creation of the 2016 Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Sustainability Act (PROMESA), which oversees Puerto Rico’s finances and works to restructure its debt. In 2019, PROMESA announced a plan to reduce the island’s debt by one-third to enable it to function under less financial stress and better support people in need.

Hurricane Maria

In addition to this long-term recession, the country’s vulnerability to severe hurricanes has perpetuated poverty in Puerto Rico. The most recent hurricane was also the most destructive in nearly a century. Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, and its destruction created lasting consequences. In addition to destroying thousands of homes and causing $94.4 billion in infrastructural damage, Maria wiped out about 80% of the island’s agriculture. Immediately following the hurricane, 100% of the island lost power for months and lacked access to necessary items including water, food, medicine and fuel. Though the U.S. government has promised increased funding to help fix the island’s damaged infrastructure, repairs have been slow and people are advocating for increased disaster relief funding.

Puerto Rico has repaired much of its infrastructure and widely improved living conditions. Meanwhile, the return of tourism has helped boost the economy in the three years following Hurricane Maria. Efforts by nonprofits and citizen groups have also helped bring attention to the issues that remain and attract funding to transform temporary band-aids into long-term solutions.


Three years after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is now facing a daunting new crisis: COVID-19. The declining population, a long-term recession and extensive hurricane damage have left Puerto Rico with a largely poor and elder population, both factors that increase vulnerability to the disease. Following Hurricane Maria, the portion of the population over age 65 increased from 14% in 2008 to 21% in 2018 as many working-age adults sought better employment opportunities in the U.S. mainland.

The high poverty level is affecting the quality of life during quarantine, as Puerto Rico has not rebuilt many homes following Hurricane Maria. Meanwhile, those who previously struggled financially are now jobless.

Due to its status as a territory, the U.S. federal government does not prioritize Puerto Rico in terms of crisis management. Although Puerto Rico receives federal funding to support critical programs such as Medicaid, this funding is insufficient under regular circumstances and does not adapt to meet Puerto Rico’s unique needs. Puerto Rico has received some extra provisions under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, however, including stimulus checks, expanded unemployment benefits and temporarily increased Medicaid funding. However, these funds comprise only a fraction of what states receive. Advocates for Puerto Rico urge policymakers to consider the fact that Puerto Rico entered the pandemic in a more vulnerable position than the U.S. when determining whether to extend funding.

Potential for a Better Future

Puerto Rico’s experience with frequent disasters has taught citizens to be self-sufficient and prepare for when disaster strikes. This silver lining helped the island quickly transition into lockdown in early March 2020, and citizens and organizations quickly acted in times of need to disburse basic necessities and medical supplies around the island to the sick and elderly.

The disasters that Puerto Rico continues to experience ravages the small island and further plunges residents into poverty. However, some are executing significant efforts to improve the territory’s infrastructure, health care systems and general living conditions. To effectively combat the factors perpetuating poverty and COVID-19 in Puerto Rico, plans to reduce debt and boost the economy are on the horizon.

– Angelica Smyrnios
Photo: Flickr