Inos Pushes For CNMI’s Inclusion In U.S. Nutrition Program

admin's picture

SNAP could add millions unavailable in current food stamp system

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 2, 2013) – Now that he is in a higher post, Governor Eloy S. Inos reiterated his support for Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan's (Ind-MP) initiative to include the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that former governor Benigno R. Fitial strongly opposed for years despite studies showing that SNAP will add $12 million to $24 million into the local economy compared to the current food stamp assistance block grant program.

Under SNAP, beneficiaries would get more in food stamp benefits compared to the current assistance block grant that the CNMI negotiates annually with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Based on recent assessments on the implementation of SNAP in the CNMI, I agree that the possible influx of an additional $12 million to $24 million to the CNMI economy will prove beneficial in this time of dire economic challenges," Inos said in a March 28 letter to Sablan, a copy of which was released yesterday.

Sablan, at the same time, said yesterday it is "regrettable" that there's some $750,000 in food stamp benefits that were carried over from fiscal year 2012 into FY 2013 because it was not spent "to help people at a time when they need help the most."

The delegate said Inos' support "helps" in including the CNMI in the SNAP under a "farm" bill. The so-called farm legislation governs U.S. agriculture and nutritional assistance policy.

"The decision will have to be made in legislation and Governor Inos' support helps. I continue to work with Chairman Frank Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Petersen and committee staff as they themselves continue their work in the FARM Bill," the delegate said.

Inos, in his one-page letter, acknowledged Sablan's efforts to ensure the inclusion of a $33-million increase in food stamp funding for SNAP in the long-delayed farm bill.

The governor hopes that that U.S. House Agriculture Committee, under chairman Frank Lucas, will wholly support this legislation.

Sablan said until the CNMI gets the Farm bill enacted into law, Inos "could begin negotiation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service for the much more expanded block grant program conditions, even possibly including higher benefits for program beneficiaries on Rota and on Tinian."

To illustrate SNAP's advantage over the current food stamp program: An average monthly food stamp benefit for a family of four in the CNMI is $302 a month, based on a 2011 study by RAS Consulting.

In Guam, which is under SNAP, a family of four receives an average of $985 a month in food stamps. Nationally, the average monthly benefit for a family of four is $668.

Some food stamp recipients interviewed yesterday said anything that will help increase food stamp benefits will be of big help.

Sablan said he will continue to work with the U.S. House Agriculture Committee to again include in the farm bill language "transitioning the Northern Mariana Islands from a block grant into the SNAP program."

"Language in the FARMM Bill is what we need for SNAP to be a permanent fixture in the Northern Mariana Islands food assistance program," he said.

Increased funding, EBT

Inos also asked Sablan's assistance to ensure that such farm bill also include the funding that the CNMI needs to undertake the implementation of an Electronic Benefit Transfer system in the Commonwealth.

USDA earlier de-obligated $4.5 million in funding to the CNMI because it has failed for years to put in place an EBT system.

"Additionally, as we anticipate the inclusion of the Commonwealth in SNAP, I would also like to work closely with you in negotiations for increased funding under the existing NAP block grant until such time that we have fully transitioned to SNAP. I am certain that many families in need of this assistance will benefit and appreciate any additional help they can get to provide for their households," Inos told Sablan.

Under the previous Fitial administration, the CNMI's inclusion in SNAP was opposed because the CNMI would be required to share one-half of the administrative costs. Currently, these are entirely paid with federal grant funds.

The current administrative cost is about $1.3 million. This means if the CNMI is included in SNAP, it has to shoulder $650,000 of the administrative costs.

But RAS Consulting said in its study that the $650,000 would be more than covered by additional tax revenue of $2.148 million to $5.04 million generated by the increased food sales and other economic activity resulting from inclusion in SNAP. RAS Consulting also said inclusion in SNAP would also result in a total economic impact of $21.48 million to $42.96 million annually using the SNAP multiplier.

The federal-administered food stamp program has 3,518 total household members in the CNMI as of January 2013, which translates to 9,522 individual beneficiaries on Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Northern Islands. In 2012, the program was funded over $12 million.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment