CNMI Delegate Encourages Governor To Expand Food Relief

admin's picture

Lt. Governor dismisses concern that those in need being denied

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Aug. 24, 2015) – U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan on Friday said Gov. Eloy S. Inos should allow more people to receive disaster food stamps, adding that the administration has at its disposal $3.5 million in surplus food-stamp funds.

In a letter, Kilili told Inos: "I understand the challenges you face during this period of disaster relief and recovery, and appreciate the hard work of the many commonwealth government employees who are themselves victims of Typhoon Soudelor. But I cannot be quiet while hundreds of people who desperately need food assistance — and who should be qualified for such aid in this state of disaster — are being denied by the Nutritional Assistance Program."

But Lt. Gov. Ralph D.L.G. Torres on Saturday said there was nothing new with Kilili’s concern, and added that only a few were denied assistance.

Kilili, in his letter, said the governor has been authorized by the Food and Nutrition Service or FNS of the U.S. Department of Agriculture "to spend all of the $3.5 million in surplus food stamp funds you were granted for fiscal [year] 2015."

Kilili added, "The Food and Nutrition Service has also authorized you to open up eligibility for food stamps to any household in the Northern Marianas with an income up to four times the normal income required to receive food stamps. This increased eligibility is provided for in the NAP Manual of Operations, Exhibit D, Chapter II(C). This means, for instance that a household of four with a monthly income less than $3,732 should be eligible for assistance."

But according to Kilili, "The Food and Nutrition Service has informed me…that the commonwealth government has decided not to increase income eligibility and that only those households that meet the normal NAP income guidelines are being given emergency food stamps. As a result, people in need are being turned away."

Kilili said "there may be factors of which I am not aware that led to the commonwealth’s decision not to use the $3.5 million in federal funds and its existing authority to allow households with higher incomes to get food stamps in this disaster. Perhaps the concern is that the commonwealth government does not yet know what the total demand for assistance will be and that available funds may be insufficient."

He added:

"What we do know is this: Acting Gov. Ralph Torres and Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Laura Ogumoro submitted a cost estimate to FNS with their original application to implement Emergency Food Assistance pursuant to Part XI and Exhibit D of the NAP Manual of Operations. They estimated that, if every single household in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands applied for one month of emergency food assistance, the cost would be $6,445,150.

"Based on that estimate it would be possible to provide every household with one-half of a month’s assistance at a cost of $3,222,575. This is well within your available budget of $3.5 million. Furthermore, not every household would be eligible under the four times normal income requirement.

"If the commonwealth’s decision is indeed not to use the resources available to help more people who lost food in the typhoon, I implore you to reconsider. You have the money. You have the authority. And here we are over two weeks after the typhoon struck and so many of our people are hungry.

"Since Typhoon Soudelor hit, I have been in constant communication with FNS to expedite the approval of funds for emergency food assistance. I have also strongly encouraged FNS to send technical assistance to support implementation of the disaster benefits program, given the public demand we anticipated and the limited resources of the NAP office. Today [Friday] I was glad to learn from FNS Regional Administrator Jesus Mendoza that he will be dispatching program and financial management staff to Saipan next week.

"If there is anything else I can do to help the commonwealth government make emergency food stamps available to more people in need, please do not hesitate to let me know."

Administration’s explanation

Asked for comment, Press Secretary Ivan Blanco said: "Governor Inos is reviewing the concerns of the congressman and has already been in communication with the CNMI NAP Office on the possibility of increasing the income guidelines once we establish the current demand in order to keep within the authorized amount of $3.5 million. According to the August 18, 2015 memo from FNS Regional Administrator Jesus Mendoza Jr., ‘…if the CNMI spends more than its estimated surplus funding on this disaster response, benefits for ongoing NAP households may have to be reduced in September and, potentially FY 2016.’ Discussions with the CNMI NAP are to keep within the allowable grant award while serving both the regular NAP recipients and the non-NAP clients affected by Typhoon Soudelor.

In an interview on Saturday, Lt. Gov. Ralph Torres said the Administration was already working on the issue even before Kilili expressed his concern.

"So the letter is nothing new," he added.

As for hundreds who were denied disaster food stamp assistance, Torres said: "We’ve been trying to resolve that issue. We did what we have to do to expedite the process. There are continuing talks between the [CNMI] government and the Food and Nutrition Service. If we go over with what is allotted then the current recipients for the ongoing program will suffer."

Press Secretary Ivan Blanco said as of Aug. 21, 2015, the Disaster Nutrition Assistance Program had met the needs of the community based on the current income guidelines used to determine eligibility for residents of the CNMI affected by Typhoon Soudelor.

Blanco said according to the latest report of Jesus Mendoza, regional administrator for FNS Western Region, as of August 21, they already issued Supplemental Program benefits to 338 ongoing NAP households in the amount of $46,872. As of 2 p.m. on Aug. 21, an additional 252 households had been assisted, Mendoza said.

He also reported that there were three households who were denied eligibility for the Disaster Program benefits, but 454 households were issued benefits in the amount of $148,152.

"As of 2 p.m. this afternoon (Aug. 21, Friday) we issued up to 3,000 numbers. More households are coming in to seek assistance. We will issue more numbers tomorrow beginning at 3,001," he said, adding that they were open also on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to assist applicants.

Torres said there’s no truth to Kilili’s claim that hundreds were denied assistance.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment