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Last updateWed, 12 Dec 2018 12am

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    Tuesday, December 11, 2018-5:32:24P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Governor: No indication of food-stamp-program mismanagement

GOVERNOR Ralph D.L.G. Torres said that,  to date, there is no indication of any mismanagement in connection with the Enhanced Nutrition Assistance Program or ENAP.

In a letter to U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan on Thursday, the governor said on Aug. 29, 2017, he personally met with top officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Food and Nutrition Service, Western Regional Office, including Regional Administrator Jesus Mendoza, Deputy Regional Administrator Terry Gunnell, SNAP Director Dennis Stewart, Grants Management Division Chief Michael Wiley and Special Nutrition Programs Director

Ralph Torres

At that meeting, the governor said the officials told him that the CNMI government, specifically the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs and the Nutrition Assistance Program management, were doing an exemplary job of implementing the plan and utilizing the funds of the ENAP.

Torres said the officials clearly spelled out their close collaboration with the NAP in the management of the ENAP. This includes working closely with the CNMI to determine and make adjustments to the initially approved ENAP income and benefit levels.

“In fact, to date, there has been no communication from the FNS indicating any mismanagement of the ENAP. Moreover, all of the communications we have received have been complimentary and have indicated that the NAP is carrying out the program under the close guidance of the FNS and is on schedule with regard to all of the program’s transitional activities,” Torres told Sablan.

The governor said in Mendoza’s letter to him dated May 12, 2017, the regional administrator stated that any changes to the approved implementation plan must be pre-approved by FNS.

“This collaboration resulted in a raising of the maximum benefits in Saipan to the level of Guam and benefits for Tinian and Rota and the Northern Islands were raised 6 percent and 22 percent higher, respectively in April of this year,” the governor said adding he commends the NAP supervisors and workers for working tirelessly  to provide assistance to residents in need and for extending the hours of services to 6 p.m. daily.

The governor said Sablan cited figures that do not concur with the figures of the NAP and FNS.

Torres said his office forwarded Sablan’s letter to the FNS requesting a response to Sablan’s claims, but the FNS did not respond directly. Instead, it provided information with the projection that there will be $5.9 million available from the 2014 Agricultural Act funding  contrary to Sablan’s claim of $10.1 million, Torres said.

“While this $5.9 million may still seem significant…it will likely be reduced drastically following the NAP-FNS meetings scheduled to take place next month when the FNS will make determinations on an increase of eligibility to benefits that will put us at or close to Guam eligibility levels. There are also a number of major plan components that still require substantial funding and must be accounted for. These include the contracting of a financial institution for the Electronic Benefits Transfer, the opening of fully operational offices on Rota and Tinian and part-time satellite offices to accommodate northern and eastern residents of Saipan,” the governor said.

He said he disagrees with Sablan’s statement that the Commonwealth government is unwilling to use the millions of dollars that the U.S. Congress has already made available to the CNMI.

“The CNMI is progressively and pro-actively working in close partnership with the USDA-FNS to manage this program in a responsible manner and that includes the consideration of adjustments-to-income-eligibility standards and benefits,” Torres said.

He assured Sablan that “there is no holding the money indefinitely” and the NAP and ENAP are being carried out based on plans developed with and agreed upon by the FNS.

The governor also disputed Sablan’s claim that the lawmaker requested information from the NAP.

“Contrary to your suggestion, your letter of June 12 made immediately public does not constitute a consultation. While you have sent letters repeatedly to the newspapers and posted on your website, you have not requested any information at length from the NAP, nor have you asked that they meet with your office about any of the details of the ENAP at any time over the course of the year, or prior to the publishing of your letters. That you have not earnestly attempted to consult with our NAP on such an important program prior to your public criticisms does not indicate an earnest attempt at consultation,” the governor said.

“The CNMI government is ensuring that the ENAP is managed properly, bringing substantially more food assistance to those who need this and implementing the agreed upon plan to ensure the NAP is in a place to better serve the public for the long term, as well as to better position itself so that your chances of seeing our transitions into SNAP are made less difficult,” Torres added.

“While I understand that this is an election season, this is an extremely important program that provides critical food assistance. It is my sincere hope that you will rise above using this as a political tool. This should transcend petty politics. You owe this to the people who work hard to carry out this program and, more importantly, to the people who depend on the food that is made available to them through this important program,” the governor said.