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Advocate calls for investigation over ‘inhumane’ act

By Moneth Deposa SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 6, 2012) – In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), United Workers Movement-NMI president Rabby Syed expressed dismay yesterday over the delayed issuance of food stamp benefits to U.S. citizen children of foreign workers, saying he will ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture to look into the matter.

Even before the Saipan Tribune reported on the delayed issuance of food stamp vouchers, Syed said he was already approached by many nonresident parents of affected U.S. citizen children, many of whom have not received their December checks because their parents failed to submit to the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) office proof that they have been petitioned for a CW permit by their employers.

He described as "inhumane" this act of denying eligible children their food stamp aid just because their parents lack some document proving that they are legally on island. This benefit, he said, is intended for U.S. citizen children and not for their nonresident parents. Syed is expected to write both the USDA and Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan to seek assistance and clarification on the matter.

In an earlier interview with some NAP recipients, many said that they tried to get their checks for December but were denied, pending the submission of new requirements that will prove their legal stay.

A NAP office caseworker confirmed Wednesday that over 100 checks are on hold, pending the submission of a CW receipt or a CW permit by the affected parents.

Department of Community and Cultural Affairs (DCCA) Secretary Melvin Faisao had also confirmed that this new requirement is also extended to other DCCA programs.

When asked to further comment on the new requirement, Faisao said in an email: "As stated earlier, the DCCA-NAP welcomes community members to apply for the services provided under the department such as food stamp. However, requirements via established department policy or rules and regulations must be submitted along with the signed application."

Faisao added that if an applicant is found eligible, a determination on benefits will be calculated. In the same statement, he denied that the agency is holding off the benefits due to the lack of a CW permit or receipt. He pointed out that NAP will determine benefit levels based on eligibility and income, not immigration status.

Faisao also cited the government's "austerity measures" for the non-completion of checks processing.

The food stamp program was created to promote the general welfare of CNMI residents and maintain their well-being by raising the levels of nutrition among low-income, zero-income, and needy families and individuals.

According to the program's income guidelines, to be eligible for food stamps, the size of a family's benefit must be based on its income and certain expenses. The poverty level is higher for bigger families and lower for smaller families.

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