CNMI Scholarship and Financial Aid Discrimination

September 2, 2010

When I read the news that U.S. citizen children of foreign parents are being discriminated against by the Saipan Higher Educational Financial Assistance Program (SHEFA) I immediately contacted a federal  official in Washington, DC to ask where complaints could be addressed. 

If you are a U.S. citizen student and are being denied a scholarship because of your race, or the nationality and residency status of your parents you can file a complaint with:


U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights

(COMPLAINT FORM)

and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

What is wrong with these SHEFA people? Who discriminates against innocent children?  Apparently the 5-member SHEFA Board of Directors, which is appointed by the mayor of Saipan, Donald P. Flores.   The board members of SHEFA are Rep. Felicidad T. Ogumoro;  Mr. Jose C. Leon Guerrero, retired educator; Josephine T. Sablan, management director at the Community Guidance Center; Maggie C. Camacho, an Executive at the Department of Commerce; and businessman John K. Tenorio.

U.S. citizen SHEFA applicants of foreign born parents claimed that they were denied scholarships only because of their parents' nationality. Mayor Donald Flores confirmed that the office had been "bombarded" with complaints and admitted there was the appearance of bias saying he would "look into the problem and rectify it."

Students reported that they met the requirements:
Many of those whose applications were disapproved are U.S. citizens, had graduated from private and public high schools on island, and have achieved high grade point averages-enough to meet all the requirements of the scholarship program.

Despite this, SHEFA officials disapproved their applications on the basis of “residency.”

Saipan Tribune learned that many of the disapproved students have parents who are non-U.S. citizens.

Among the affected students is Leagine Mendiola, a Saipan Southern High School graduate and former president of the popular Manta Ray Band.

Mendiola said yesterday that she made sure she completed all the requirements before the July 30 deadline but was disappointed to receive the disapproval letter last week.

“The reason for the disapproval is my residency. I called the SHEFA office to verify the problem about my residency and I was disappointed when the employee could not say or justify the reason. I think that's very unfair,” Mendiola said.

Mendiola filed an appeal with the SHEFA board on Wednesday, asking it to verify her application and reconsider its decision.

In her appeal, Mendiola cited the SHEFA rules and requirements and explained why she is eligible to receive scholarship assistance.
A previous Saipan Tribune article described the program:
SHEFA, a program created by law under the jurisdiction of the Saipan Mayor's Office, receives $3 million in appropriation every year to help low-income but deserving local students pursue college here and off-island.

Since SHEFA began giving out funds in 2004, Flores said, there were many instances and reports of delayed issuance of checks to student recipients. The municipality's intention, he said, is to prevent any delay in the issuance of these checks to students.

The Department of Finance is the agency currently responsible for issuing the checks.

“The municipality's intention is to make sure that the funding for the scholarship will be given out to our students in a timely manner.to avoid any delay in their checks,” he told Saipan Tribune Thursday.

Although the program is under the mayor's office, Flores admitted that the mayor has limited authority over the program.

“Since this is created under the mayor's office, I believe we must be provided greater authority when it comes to the program's operation,” he said.

He supports the idea, however, of keeping the SHEFA board and its authority to make sure that everything is in accordance with statute.

SHEFA gets $3 million every year and is funded by poker license fees.

Flores said this amount should go entirely to the scholarship program. Administrative costs for the program's operation, he said, must be sourced from other areas.

At present, scholarships and administrative costs for the program are both sourced from the $3 million yearly allocation.

SHEFA admitted in 2009 that it has yet to track down all its beneficiaries since it began giving out funds in 2004.

Based on the scholarship's policy, a beneficiary must stay and work in the CNMI for at least a year in exchange for receiving financial assistance to complete their studies. However, SHEFA has no records on how many of its beneficiaries have graduated and actually returned to fulfill their obligations.

It only knows that since last year, there were over 800 students from Saipan who were awarded assistance for their college education both here and in abroad.
Another  Saipan Tribune article listed the "partners" of SHEFA:
SHEFA partners include, but not limited to, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the Public School System, Northern Marianas College, the Department of Labor Division of Employment, Office of Personnel Management, and the study body at the private and public high schools and at the Northern Marianas College.
Although the funding for scholarships comes from poker fee revenues, federal money is used in the personnel and offices overseeing the program. The U.S. Department of Education College Access Challenge Grant Program funded a "Cash for College" workshop in June 2009 and in November 2009 at NMC. The workshop offered "step-by-step assistance in completing college financial aid forms for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the Saipan Higher Education Financial Aid, and the CNMI Scholarship."

In April 2008, the Office of the Public Auditor found that SHEFA did "not operate prudently."  The report cited its "use of and excesses accorded contract employees, improper payments to some Board members, and the hiring or contracting of three persons or entities to perform duplicative work (the employee, a contractor, and the Board)." Then Public Auditor, Mike Sablan said that the 46-page reply submitted by SHEFA was "poorly written and nonsense."

I read it and it is off-topic, confusing, and defensive.

The Saipan Tribune reported:
In his letter to SHEFA board chairwoman Felicidad T. Ogumoro, Sablan expressed his disappointment and frustration with what he described as an unresponsive, unintelligible and professionally unacceptable document.

“The submission fails to address, with any substance or sincerity, the concerns raised in the OPA review,” Sablan said. “It instead embarks on a specious 46-page tirade, so poorly written and teeming with rhetorical nonsense, grammatical errors, and run-on sentences that gleaning any actual meaning from its text is difficult, if not impossible.”

Sablan wants to know if public funds were expended in drafting the SHEFA submission.
This is not the first allegation of discrimination against U.S. Citizen children of foreign workers.  In 2007 and 2008 status reports, I wrote about the alleged discrimination at the federal food stamp office and in the federally funded Head Start Program where the children of foreign workers were allegedly placed at the bottom of the waiting list.

7 comments:

TAGLISH said...

That is very true Ms. Wendy!

To add to that, maybe the Feds should investigate how some people who have high paying jobs still enjoy those federally funded programs supposedly for the low income only.

Secondly, most of the people working in these offices are not helping applicant, they seem too tired to serve, very inefficient and very impolite especially to CWs. It’s very rare that you can find someone who is professionally and responsibly doing their jobs. Discrimination is all over this place!

Anonymous said...

The Mayor's reaction should also be commended. Instead of immediately dismiss or challenge the charges, he tated he's heard about the complaints and will immediately look into them. This attitude is refreshing, and should be commended. Let's hope he follows through.

Anonymous said...

They should also look into the treatment of philipino-us citizens at the medicaid office.

jmixson03 said...

Wendy, Off the subject,I just sent you an article on the biggest "Human Trafficking" prosecution in US history. It has been going on in Hawaii and covers all of the islands, and large farms. I know you must get so many e-mails daily, so I am giving you a "heads up"

Wendy said...

Jmison03

Thanks so much - I am sure you are talking about the
400 Thai farm workers illegally trafficked. I am so busy working on freelance writing projects (includes this!) that I cannot report everything here for now. Will try to get a quick post up. Meanwhile I hope people will go to the link.

Anonymous said...

This is nothing new. There was an article in the Saipan Tribune about problems in the Scholarship office dating back to 2006.

http://www.saipantribune.com/newsstory.aspx?newsID=87976&cat=1

J Savs said...

Can everyone just please calm down, until at least the appeal process is over? Yes, this is unfortunate that so many of us were denied, BUT I'd like to stay positive and believe that this was a simple administrative mistake. Students with parents who aren't American in the past have been granted SHEFA. I don't believe that a government agency would do such an injustice to so many of its future leaders.
I appealed the SHEFA decision and am currently waiting for a reply. I've been told that the appeal process is a case by case basis, and this problem should be solved shortly.
I believe that SHEFA took a short cut into determining residency this year by ONLY looking at 1) if the student has voted in the last election and 2) if the students' parents voted in the last election.
If none of us do get approved even after we appealed, then that is the time we should be up in arms and waving pitch forks and torches. This problem should never have happened in the first place, but it did, and we must make the best of our situation. Be patient and hope for the best. I don't believe in biting the hand that feeds me. I feel lucky enough to have the opportunity to receive this money.
But then if this problem doesn't get rectified, I will join all of you when we protests in the street while blaring Public Enemy's Fight the Power song. I hope.