CNMI Delegate Want More People To Get Assistance They Need

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Kilili urges local government to use federal money to assist everyone

By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Aug. 25, 2015) – The last thing U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan wants is an argument over semantics, his outreach coordinator /deputy communications director said on Monday.

"When we say people are being denied or turned away, we mean that they are not getting the help they need," Tina Sablan said in a statement. "They do not have to line up at the food stamp office and be told they do not qualify. The point is that in this state of disaster they should qualify."

She said the Nutrition Assistance Program manual of operations is an agreement enacted every year between the commonwealth government and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Food and Nutrition Service, and its Chapter II (c) pertains to food assistance in the event of a disaster.

"This part specifically provides for increasing income limits in order to assist more families in need," she added.

"We should all be concerned that there are people who are not getting the help they desperately need in this state of disaster. Many, many families lost all their food in Typhoon Soudelor. Many, many families are not lining up at the food stamp office for disaster assistance because they took one look at the income guidelines released by the local government and knew they would not be eligible. But they still need help."

Sablan said Kilili is urging the administration to use the federal money that is already there to help more people.

"Congressman Kilili’s plea to Governor Inos is that the governor exercise the authority he already has to use the federal money that is already there to help more people, more quickly, and get that money flowing into our economy. The congressman is committed to doing everything he can to work with this administration and with the federal government to make that happen," Sablan said.

NAP’s letter to Governor Inos dated Aug. 11 authorizes the CNMI to spend up to $1 million for disaster food assistance and assured the commonwealth government that more is available if needed, she added.

In addition, NAP’s letter to Inos dated Aug. 18 is authorizing the availability of $3.5 million in carry over funds to be used for disaster food assistance, Sablan said.

The decision not to increase the income eligibility limits at this time was the CNMI government’s decision, she added.

Kilili wrote a letter to Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Audrey Rowe on Aug. 21 to request that FNS consider exercising its reprogramming authority to make more funds available for emergency food assistance, if it is needed, beyond the $3.5 million that is available now.

In his letter to Rowe, Kilili stated that more funding could be necessary to meet the full need for assistance.

"Mr. Jesus Mendoza’s(NAP regional administrator) authorization for the expenditure of $3.5 of FY15 NAP will be critical for the recovery of the many households affected by Typhoon Soudelor," he told Rowe. "Although the congressional office is not involved in the actual certification of eligibility and cannot predict the number of households that will apply, it is conceivable that more funding could be necessary to meet the full need of assistance. To be prepared, I would like to ask now whether the Food and Nutrition Service would consider this possible additional need and be open to exercising reprogramming authority as USDA Secretary Vilsack did in 2009 to give the commonwealth the same 13.6 percent increase provided nationality under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and then again in 2011 with another $1 million to address the increased demand for food assistance in the Northern Marianas during the economic downturn of that time."

Kilili also wrote a letter to Inos on Aug. 21 to urge the governor to allow more residents to get emergency food assistance.

On Saturday, Lt. Gov. Ralp Torres told reporters that the reason they cannot use the entire $3.5 million funding for everybody is that they don’t want to jeopardize the current program for NAP recipients. He said if they go over what is allotted, the FY 2016 NAP program will suffer.

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