Marianas Variety

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    Tuesday, December 11, 2018-5:34:53P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Kilili: Families in need of food assistance still waiting

U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, who has been urging the Torres administration to spend the CNMI’s annual food aid block grant and the additional funds the lawmaker included in the 2014 Farm Bill, said he has been receiving reports from his constituents that the new eligibility standards earlier announced by the governor did not go into effect on Oct. 1.

In a letter to the governor, Kilili said: “You announced in your State of the Commonwealth Address on Aug. 24 that income eligibility standards for the Marianas Nutrition Assistance Program would be increased to equal Guam’s. In yourAug. 31 e-letter, you reported the U.S. Department of Agriculture had approved the increase. And, in a letter to me, on August 29, [Department of Community and Cultural Affairs] Secretary Robert Hunter confirmed that the increased income eligibility level would go into effect beginning Oct. 1.”

Kilili added, “I write now because I am receiving reports from constituents that the new eligibility standards did not go into effect on October 1.”

He said he is also “in receipt of a September 28 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.”

“As you know,” Kilili added, “I have been pressing you to spend the Commonwealth’s annual food aid block grant, as well as the additional funds I included for Marianas NAP in the 2014 farm bill more quickly. My attempts at the beginning of this year to get additional funding for NAP in the Farm Bill now under negotiation in Congress were blocked, because the Commonwealth had over $20 million unspent.”

Kilili said based on the “financial projection sheets provided to me by USDA, as of September 30 you should have $21,121,500 on hand, and will be receiving another $12,148,000 as your FY19 block grant. That is $33,269,500 in total.”

“I understand that the recent need to replace food damaged by Typhoon Mangkhut has temporarily complicated administration of NAP. But you wrote to FNS Administrator Audrey Rowe on October 14, 2016, saying you were going to ‘utilize the available resources to increase eligibility.’ Two years later families in need are still waiting.”

In a Sept. 28 letter, Regional Administrator Jesus Mendoza told the governor that USDA Food and Nutrition Service was not able to approve the memorandum of agreement and budget for an increase in income eligibility for ENAP, “until the potential need for Major Disaster Assistance resulting from Typhoon Mangkhut is determined.”

Mendoza  asked the governor to provide confirmation of which areas the CNMI will include in the Major Disaster Assistance request.

“Once received, FNS will proceed with the approval process for FFY 2019. In the interim, please continue to use the FFY2018 MOU to administer the NAP. The approval of the FFY 2019 CNMI NAP MOU and Budget may be retroactive to October, 2018, as appropriate.”

Asked for comment, Press Secretary Kevin Bautista said:

“This administration finds it appalling that our current U.S. delegate is politicizing this issue at a time when the Commonwealth is under a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration. The letter from FNS clearly states that they will move forward with the approval process of the income eligibility increase after a determination of emergency food assistance is made for the CNMI as a result of Typhoon Mangkhut. Since the President approved the governor’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration, the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs and the Nutrition Assistance Program have been working diligently with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to ensure that beneficiaries on all three islands are taken care of. This work includes a completed and thorough determination of emergency food assistance that has already been sent to the FNS Western Region office for approval and a replacement of lost food assistance benefits for the island of Rota. The process was pushed back by the USDA FNS because right before the standards were to be in effect on Oct. 1st, the CNMI, mainly the island of Rota was devastated by a typhoon. Through a collaborative and proactive approach, the Governor’s Office, DCCA, and NAP worked with FNS to determine emergency food assistance benefits for the most vulnerable in our community. This affects FNS’ determination of NAP’s FFY 2019 MOU and Budget. We expect this process to move expeditiously as our NAP team works with our FNS partners.

 “The hardworking staff at DCCA and the NAP office put in the work over the last several months with USDA for a significant increase in income eligibility standards, and they successfully got it done without any direct help from the congressional office. As a result, the governor assured the Commonwealth of the increase in income eligibility for ENAP, so that our families receive the nutrition assistance they need. The increase is still slated to take into effect. For our current U.S. delegate to politicize this issue during a major disaster declaration and after not joining our local efforts to successfully raise income eligibility for our families in need is an indication of how he tries to create something out of a decade’s work of complacency.”