Thirty-five percent of the population in Puerto Rico receives food stamps, an abnormally large proportion due in part to a 31 percent increase in the number of Puerto Ricans over 60 who qualify for benefits.

Seniors account for 264,000 of the 1.3 million people on the island receiving help under the Puerto Rican equivalent of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Together, people in the over-60 and under-18 age cohorts total more than half of the food stamp recipients in the U.S. commonwealth, the director of Puerto Rico's Administration for the Socioeconomic Development of the Family, Marta Elsa Fernández, told Efe.

She pointed out that Puerto Rico "is a poor country" and that therefore it is understandable that 1.3 million of the island's 3.7 million residents would qualify for help.

By the standards of the U.S. mainland, 45 percent of Puerto Ricans are poor, Fernández said.

The increase in unemployment - which already exceeds 15 percent - and especially the fact that seniors are losing other types of public aid is increasingly pushing people over 60 to request food stamps, which they then share among their other younger family members.

"Any person at any time in their life may need this aid," Fernández said, explaining that the general idea that you have to be poor to receive food stamps is not completely correct.

Regarding the amount of the aid, she said that, on average, each of the recipients receives $112 per month, while for a family of four that amount rises to $400.

Fernández said that her agency is rigorous when it comes to approving such aid, adding that each year all people who receive food stamps are subjected to a rigorous analysis.

Her agency has been allocated $1.9 billion for the current fiscal year to distribute food stamps among the Puerto Rican population. 

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