Slider
Slider

|

Slider

Kilili to governor: Don’t cut food aid; administration to Kilili: Don’t deflect blame and deceive the public

Local
Typography
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan on Thursday said he asked Gov. Ralph DLG Torres not to cut food aid for families on October 1.

Kilili said in a letter on Aug. 26, the governor “threatened to cut aid to some of the 5,169 families now enrolled in the Commonwealth’s Nutrition Assistance Program, unless Congress appropriated $11.5 million.”

In a statement, Kilili said cutting aid in the middle of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus would be a terrible hardship on these families.

He asked Governor Torres to be compassionate, at least, to March next year, when the $23 million the Commonwealth currently has available might run out.

Kilili said he also updated the governor on the recent action by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to include the CNMI in a special Pandemic EBT program, providing food assistance to families with school children. “The change is part of the must-pass continuing resolution to fund the federal government through December 11,” Kilili said.

He added that the Pandemic EBT program will require a plan of action from the governor and is expected to provide from $12 million to $16 million to the Commonwealth.

Kilili said the program was set up in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and did not include American Samoa, Puerto Rico, or the CNMI because those areas do not have EBT or electronic benefits transfer systems.

“Instead, the Families First Act in May and the CARES Act in March provided the Commonwealth with $1.86 million for food assistance, money that the governor had not accounted for when deciding to cut benefits on Oct. 1,” Kilili said.

Administration response

Asked for comment, acting Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Robert Hunter said the delegate is deflecting from his inability as a member of Congress to appropriate funding for the NAP which, Hunter added, is a congressional responsibility.

 “Congressman Sablan is either trying to deceive the public, or he does not actually understand at this point, how the NAP expends its available funds…something our congressman should know.  It is absolutely disingenuous of Congressman Sablan to suggest that the governor has the option to prevent the reduction in NAP assistance.  As our delegate should know, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service advises on and approves the spending plan, including the income eligibility and benefit levels, and will not approve a plan for either that sees the NAP funding to exhaustion in the middle of a grant year.  The FNS would simply not allow this to happen,” said Hunter who is also the governor’s senior policy advisor.

Hunter said the congressman “is attempting to deflect blame for his inability to see the funding necessary through Congress to continue the current income eligibility and benefit levels.  Only the U.S. Congress can affect funding for the NAP.”

Hunter said Kilili’s “failure to see appropriate funding in the last Agricultural Bill in Congress and failure to acquire the funding necessary to support eligibility and benefits are the direct causes for the reduction of current NAP funding to be in line with next year’s funding level.”

Hunter added, “In fact, in a communication exchange between the congressman’s office and the FNS, his staff sought confirmation of the amount needed to support the current eligibility and benefit levels and responded that Congressman Sablan would work to obtain the needed funding.  The congressional office did not suggest in those communications that the FNS permit the exhaustion of available funds before the year’s end, and the communication from the congressman’s office also never expressed any assurances that he could get additional funding before the exhaustion of funds, and in fact only noted, that he was looking at getting funding into the next pandemic legislation.”

 Hunter said “in a letter  to me after he failed to see language in the last federal Agricultural Bill that would have bolstered the NAP funding, [the congressman] promised to use his experience and relationships in the U.S. Congress to secure the funding necessary to maintain the increased income eligibility and benefits.  That was two years ago.  Since then, Congressman Sablan, as far as we know, has been completely unsuccessful in seeing the funding increase necessary to support the new income eligibility and benefit levels.  In fact, we are not aware, even though we have requested updates, of any measures he has taken to see the necessary funding.  He did use the media to politicize the program by demanding increases to income eligibility and benefits that were already negotiated by the NAP and approved by the FNS, but he hasn’t succeeded in securing the funding necessary to continue these increases as he promised he would do in that communication.”

According to Hunter, “Congressman Sablan has spent an awful lot of time and effort with election-time politicking and purposefully misinforming the public, as is the case with [his recent] press release.  This is time that would have been better spent working with Congress to see the funding increases necessary to support the CNMI food assistance needs.  Unfortunately, that has not been the case, and as a result of this failure we are now faced with these required reductions in food assistance under NAP because of a lack of congressional action.”

 

 

previous arrow
next arrow
Shadow
Slider

Read more articles

Visit our Facebook Page

previous arrow
next arrow
Shadow
Slider