Marianas Variety

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    Friday, March 22, 2019-11:51:36A.M.






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OPINION | Kilili is dishonest and detrimental

OUR duplicitous U.S. Congressman Gregorio “Kilili” Sablan, continues to use our Nutrition Assistance Pro-gram as a vehicle to attempt to exact his petty revenge and as a tool  he hopes will gain him votes.

The Friday, October 12, 2018 issue of Marianas Variety, saw another one of the Congressman’s hit-pieces on the NAP.    As has been the case with the last half-dozen letters his staff have written for him, it was fraught with straight up lies.

His office twisted a post-major disaster declaration letter of September 29 from the Food and Nutrition Service Regional Administrator, Mr. Jesus Mendoza, that let the Governor know that he would be holding off on signing our recently negotiated Memorandum of Understanding, that spells out the agreements negotiated for the NAP and ENAP budgets, and the increased income eligibility — until a decision is agreed upon for post-disaster food assistance.  The approval for the disaster plan was received from the FNS on October 17  and we expect the MOU to be signed following.

What Kilili’s office tried to do, was paint the false picture that statements made by myself and Governor Torres on the increased income eligibility were false, and that the FNS had not agreed upon the NAP budget or the increased income eligibility.  This was a blatant attempt by the Congressman to put forward to the public a bald-faced lie.  And he knows this. 

FNS Administrator Mendoza’s letter states, “The FNS is not able to approve the FFY 2019 CNMI MOU and Budget UNTIL the potential need for Major Disaster Assistance is determined.  As such, Please provide confirmation of which areas CNMI will be including in the Major Disaster Assistance request as soon as possible.  Once received, FNS WILL proceed with the approval process for FFY 2019.”

Kilili’s office took this statement from Administrator Mendoza and twisted this to “I am also in receipt of a September letter to you from Jesus Mendoza, Regional Administrator for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, that indicates the agency has never approved the CNMI MOU and Budget for FY19, which began on October 1.”  This is factually incorrect.  They agreed upon all of the terms and the Congressman knows full well they have simply and for a brief time opted to hold off on signing the instrument of that agreement, until details for disaster assistance are approved by the FNS.  He goes on to reinforce his distortion by noting instances where the income eligibility increase was promised an announced, in a despicable attempt to suggest that this was a lie.  The article was fraught with similarly erroneous statements and budget-related information.

His attempt to portray this as there was no agreement with the FNS on the budget or to raise income eligibility, is plain dishonest.  This is was clearly the purpose, as the first sentence of the article read “The Food and Nutrition Service did not approve the increase in income eligibility for ENAP.” This misinformation has caused unnecessary worry by ENAP applicants.

He goes on in the article to state, “My attempts at the beginning of this year to get additional funding for the NAP in the farm bill now under negotiation in Congress were blocked, because the Commonwealth had over $20 million unspent.”  This is another load of abject nonsense from Killili.  And he knows it.  The funding is there to carry out the ENAP.  Not only were we on track with every aspect of that plan, but ahead of schedule in areas.  As I’ve stated before, NOTHING related to that plan is carried out without the approval of the FNS.  Nothing.  And by every single one of their accounts, our NAP has carried out the plan in a most exemplary fashion.  The $20 million that the Congressman keeps bringing up, 1) wasn’t $20 million, and 2) what funding is there, is there to carry out aspects of the plan and cover benefits over the life of the plan, as specified by the plan.  This is simply gobbledygook by the Congressman to provide him with cover for FAILING to see any language in the Farm Bill to see the CNMI transition into SNAP.  This was Kilili’s ONE piece of the plan, and he FAILED to do it.  Not only did he fail to do it, but he never provided us with any kind of an explanation along the way as to why.  In fact, it was during the recent negotiations (the one where the FNS DID agree to the negotiated budget and our standing request to raise income eligibility, and that Mr. Mendoza was present at), that we learned from our Federal partners that our Congressman had not seen any language in the Farm Bill to see our transition into SNAP.

To be absolutely clear...  Congressman Gregorio “Kilili” Sablan FAILED to see any language in the Farm Bill that would transition the CNMI into the SNAP.  There is NO ONE to blame for this but him and his inability to affect this change.  The NAP has carried every other aspect of the ENAP out, as I said, in exemplary fashion.  Every single piece of the plan has been met. 

Why is Kilili attempting to create cover, and excuse, for his failure.  Because, he knows that his failure will mean that the increased benefits will be stepped down, and new beneficiaries under the increased income eligibility will be out of eligibility, over the course of the next two years — because of his failure to see that language in the Farm Bill.  It seems an imperative for Kilili to ensure that he takes no blame for this.  The fact is, and as I’ve said, this was his one piece and he will have only himself to blame.

Kilili continues to play politics with this important food assistance program.  It is especially heinous as he takes his latest potshot when the FNS is in the process of reviewing and approving a disaster food assistance plan (the reason for the delay of their signing of the MOU), and our NAP staff have already been working to provide replacement food benefits to Rota NAP households, and preparing to carry out the provision of assistance for every single household on Rota, in preparation for the FNS approval.  While our good staff at NAP are dealing with disaster assistance, and our partners at the FNS are taking the extra precaution of not signing an MOU simply to make sure there is enough funding to handle both the disaster and the budgetary and ENAP plans agreed upon, our current U.S. Congressman Kilili continues to play his petty and disturbing form of politics, and throw our good staff and their exemplary work under the bus.

From the very beginning of this endeavor, Kilili has shown concern for three things and three things only...1) ensuring he gets the most mileage possible out of the press, 2) utilizing the program for political gain, and 3) constructing cover for his abject failure to see the CNMI transition into the SNAP.  As much as Kilili has gone on over the years about SNAP, beating Governor’s over the head with the issue of the CNMI not being in the program, it was surprising to learn just how little he actually knew about SNAP.   In fact, it was stunning.  It is obvious by his comments about the funding, that he has NO CLUE how the ENAP works.  By statements and behavior over the past six months, it has become obvious that he really doesn’t care about the program at all — other than he sees it as a primary vehicle for his campaigns.  It is all very disheartening.

Rather than continue to engage in using this important food program as a vehicle for his campaign, he should be working on solutions to his failure to see us included in the Farm Bill.  Whether that is seeing our block grant budget increased, or by some other means.  Because when we have to drop beneficiaries off the roles and reduce benefits back to the NAP levels — the only individual to blame will be Congressman Gregorio “Kilili” Sablan, and no one else.