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100 beneficiaries see delay in receiving vouchers

By Moneth Deposa SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 5, 2012) – In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), over 100 food stamp beneficiaries are experiencing a delay in the issuance of their vouchers due to a new policy that requires foreign parents to show proof that they are legally on island.

Saipan Tribune learned that since December, the local food stamp office has been requiring nonresident parents of U.S. citizen children who receive food stamp benefits to present their CW receipts from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service as proof that they have been petitioned for a CW permit by their employers.

Some of those affected by this new policy told Saipan Tribune yesterday that a large number of recipients have been denied their vouchers because of their inability to show a receipt from USCIS.

Swingly Ringlen, a case worker at the Nutrition Assistance Program office, confirmed this new policy yesterday, saying that the CW receipt or permit itself is among the documents they now require of all recipients and applicants. Ringlen explained that the local NAP office included these documents as among the requirements mandated by department policy.

"Yes, we do require the submission of the CW receipt [or permit itself] from the parents of U.S. citizen kids who are availing of the food stamp service. We need to make sure that their parents are legally employed here in the CNMI," he told Saipan Tribune.

According to Ringlen, NAP began requiring the additional document since the expiration of umbrella permits and entry permits issued by the local Labor Department on Nov. 27, 2011.

"These documents [CW permit or receipt] serve as replacement to those umbrella permits and entry permits then issued by our local Labor. In requiring these records for their files, we are not violating any law because it is stipulated in our manual [local policy]," he said.

Ringlen confirmed that over 100 vouchers are temporarily on hold since December 2011 pending the submission of these new requirements. He revealed that the number continues to increase.

"As soon as they submit us the CW permit or receipt, we issue their food stamp checks. Like today, a lady came in this morning and was able to get her December check upon showing us the required documentations," he said.

He said the NAP office has been assured by USCIS that the federal agency issued receipts to all nonresident workers who have been petitioned by their employers.

Applicants who cannot provide or were not petitioned by their employers will not be qualify for the program, he said. "That's one major requirement now."

Ringley stressed that even if the CW receipt or permit is required only by the local NAP, it is not a violation of any federal rule related to the food stamp program, which is 100 percent federally funded.

Ringlen encouraged new applicants to the program to attend an orientation on Jan. 17-18 to get more information about the program and its requirements.

Food stamp vouchers are issued every first week of each month to families who qualify under the low-income threshold.

According to Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Melvin Faisao, this new requirement (CW receipt and permit) applies to other programs of the department.

Among these programs are the Child Care Development Fund, the Office on Aging, the Community Service Block Grant Services, and the Low Income Household Energy Assistance Program.

Faisao confirmed that this new department policy became effective on Nov. 27, 2011, when U.S. federalization took effect in the Commonwealth.

He said that applicants for NAP assistance and other social services under the department are being reviewed accordingly based on these new requirements and their eligibility.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been giving the CNMI $12 million for NAP since 2009; the amount was increased last year. NAP is funded through a block grant and has been implemented in the CNMI since 1982.

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