CNMI Food Stamp Controversies Heat Up

January 5, 2012

CNMI Food Stamp Program Ensures Hunger Pains
Congressman Sablan announced in a press release that he will employ a gimmick to draw attention to the need to raise the food stamp budget in the CNMI. For five days he will spend only $4.87 a day on food to show how difficult it is to eat three meals a day on that amount of money. That is the maximum daily amount that a CNMI food stamp recipient receives for food stamps in the CNMI, which is a ridiculously insufficient. The congressman hopes his campaign will gain support for a bill to increase the CNMI's food stamp allocation.

Sablan’s press release states that the congressman asked a registered dietitian to come up with a meal plan based on the budget amount of $4.87 that provides a day’s worth of nutritious meals. Since in Saipan, even drinking water has to be purchased, this may present a challenge. Perhaps if the congressman supplements the insufficient food stamp allocation by fishing and picking vegetables and fruits from his garden or ranch, this would be possible.

For the U.S. child of the average foreign worker who owns no land, has fewer family connections and less resources than the average U.S. citizen CNMI resident, it would be much more difficult, if not impossible, to eat well on that amount. I have known foreign workers who have fished, grown vegetables in coffee cans and planted papayas next to barracks in order to survive on their meager wages, never mind food stamps. We all know that the $4.87 is not enough to purchase food for a day's worth of meals. Then again, earning about $140.00 take home pay weekly doesn't buy many healthy meals after all the bills are paid either.

Delegate Sablan must be aware that many CNMI residents qualify for food stamps not because they lost their jobs, but because the average pay and minimum wage earns them poverty level wages. While it is great to advocate for additional funding for the CNMI’s food stamp program, it would be advantageous to also work towards lifting the masses out of poverty by providing them with a livable minimum wage.

The Congressman outlined his ongoing push for more food stamps in his press release. He stated, “This year we got another $1 million increase from the Secretary of Agriculture.”

Governor Fitial will probably take issue with that comment like he did in September 2011 when he accused Sablan for taking credit for the $1 million increase in NAP funding. At that time the governor said that he would “continue defending and praising the work of local government officials who often go unrecognized simply because certain elected leaders want to mislead the public and grab credit by all means necessary.”

Congressman Sablan introduced H.R. 1411, to include the Northern Marianas in the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which would bring an estimated $12 to $14 million more in food stamp funding to the commonwealth. However, the governor opposes the move saying it will add expenses that the CNMI cannot afford.

In his press release Sablan stated:
“Average food stamp benefits in Guam, for example, are more than twice as much as in the Northern Marianas, the CNMI’s could be, too,” says Sablan. “Our local government continues to deny our community a level of benefits available throughout the rest of the United States.”

Local government officials have resisted the idea, however, saying it would be too expensive and difficult to administer.

“The national program would bring anywhere from $12 million to $24 million additional dollars to the CNMI economy, according to the Congressional Budget Office,” Sablan says.

A study Sablan commissioned estimated that this additional food stamp money would mean $2.2 to $5 million in new tax revenue each year for the cash-strapped Commonwealth government.

“Right now the food stamp program costs about $1.2 million to administer,” Sablan explains. “Under the national program the CNMI would have to cover half the administrative costs – which the new tax revenues would more than take care of.
“That additional money in the economy would be good for businesses and create jobs, too.
Read Sablan’s commissioned study here. It makes sense.

Today Angel Demapan, Governor Fitial's press secretary, speaking on behalf of the Fitial Administration, was quoted by the Marianas Variety as calling Sablan’s effort to bring attention to the food stamp crisis a “petty campaign.” From the Marianas Variety:
Press Secretary Angel A. Demapan said instead of focusing on “petty campaign tactics,” Sablan should push bills to reduce or eliminate the “hefty administrative costs” involved with the SNAP program.

Demapan said the food stamp assistance the CNMI receives will not be enough as long as Sablan is “not pushing legislation that would reduce the local matching requirement for Medicaid.”

The Fitial administration, he said, sympathizes with families who have to depend on food stamps.

“But we will not mislead them by shifting blame,” Demapan added.

Angel Demapan enjoys a meal paid for by taxpayers.
The constant squabbles between the delegate and governor do nothing to correct the many problems with the CNMI NAP Program.  Demapan, a government employee who accompanies the governor on numerous junkets where they feast on lobster and wine, obviously does not know what it is like to suffer from hunger pains.  The Fitial Administration lacks compassion and empathy.

I support adequately funding the CNMI food assistance program. No one should ever go hungry in America. Still, before any additional funds for food stamps are allocated with federal taxpayer’s money (U.S. taxpayer's money –CNMI residents do not pay federal income tax) the federal government needs to audit the CNMI Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) Office to ensure strict adherence to federal laws including civil rights and anti-discrimination laws. There is an urgent need for federal oversight in this office and other federal programs where foreign workers have complained of discrimination for years, as I have written in numerous reports that have been submitted to the U.S. Congress and U.S. officials.

The CNMI NAP Program, which is under the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, recently enacted a local policy requiring foreign workers to submit CW permits or the CW application verification in order to receive the benefits for their qualifying children. The CNMI office admitted denying 100 or more foreign workers food stamps for their qualifying children in December 2011. It reported that the number of denials is growing.  I do not believe that this practice is legal based on a review of other states' policies and statements from the USDA website. A local office charged with administering a federal nutritional assistance program should not be denying food stamps to U.S. citizen children because the parents cannot produce documentation to confirm their status. They should not be asked to produce such documentation. (Read the previous post for more details.)

The NAP Office did not say that any U.S. citizen parents had their food stamps denied because of any paperwork problems. It certainly appears that the office is targeting children of foreign workers. This Scrooge-like act is all too typical and reflects the callous and degrading way that CNMI offices and officials often treat foreign workers and their innocent children.

Adding to the problem is the fact that the CNMI governor has also cut the hours of federal employees to conform to the CNMI’s austerity measures that imposed a 16-hour pay period cut for selected CNMI government employees. The Secretary of Community and Cultural Affairs, Melvin Fasiao blamed the cut in hours for non-completion of processing of food stamp checks.

Obviously Fitialization is to blame for the denial of food stamps for the affected foreign workers' children. This is another discriminatory and inhumane CNMI governor-created problem that has severely hurt the innocent clients of this federally funded agency.

The proposed anti-foreign worker local labor law (that contains immigration regulations that attempt to preempt federal law) will further oppress the rights of the foreign workers. How much discrimination; how many civil rights violations will the U.S. government allow the CNMI government to inflict upon the foreign workers before they step in to enforce the law?

Perhaps after the delegate experiences the reality of the $4.87 daily meal allowance, he may want to develop more empathy and a deeper understanding of other problems that plague the residents of the CNMI. He could experience a week or two living on the CNMI minimum wage or a year of having no health insurance. He could take the time to meet with some of the estimated 10,000 to 12,000 foreign workers who have no U.S. citizen spouse or child to discuss the discrimination that they feel from being callously omitted from H.R. 1466.


Anonymous said...

I hope these CWs sue NAP and the rude employees. Maybe they can win a settlement so large that they can afford to eat a decent meal.

Anonymous said...

Anyone notice Kilili writes a press release about the foodstamps and doesn't mention that the stupid NMI office is breaking the law by cheating U.S. kids?

Anonymous said...

Kilili also endorsed the Gov's move (and private sector) to delay the automatic increase in Fed wages.

With the present minimum wage in the CNMI it would also qualify all people working for foods stamps, so there also lies a problem, along with the Govt. workers with their hours cut means that about virtually everybody is qualified for food stamps working or not.
Now if the food stamps are increased to what Guam and the US mainland receives, this would be a big economic boost.

Anonymous said...

6:25 Big economic boost? How does it help people to live in a total welfare state? When more CWs depart more businesses will close up and the economy will be even worse than it is now. Kilili isn't doing any favors by encouraging handouts and a beggar society. Fitial isn't helping either. Where's the vision?

Anonymous said...

Kilili should post his meal menu and how many pounds he lost on his website.

Anonymous said...

Noni 2:30, I was trying to be a little sarcastic.
minimum wage has to be brought up along besides the increase in food stamps.
Point being that no matter how much food stamps are available, with the present condition in the NMI almost everyone can qualify.
But as many point out an increase would mean more money floating around in the community.
And yes, the NMI is already a big welfare society which, besides Fitial and his Mafia and the do nothing elected, is one more reason why we are in this present situation.

Anonymous said...

The Congressman has made this an issue, as you can see by his constant articles. He's notched it up with his pledge to eat on $4.87 a day. I still don't get why you unfairly go after him. The ball is in the admins court and he still presses. Is this about the foodstamp program or is it personal? Because it sure looks personal?

Wendy Doromal said...

10:07 Are you addressing this comment to me or a person who has commented here? If you are addressing it to me let me say that I stand by my article. Re-read it to grasp the meaning. I said that I support increasing the Food Stamp allocations in the CNMI as long as there is oversight, adherence to federal law, and an end to discrimination for foreign worker parents of U.S. citizen children at the office. I said it would serve the people if the delegate also looked at other critical problems, including raising the people out of poverty by advocating for a livable minimum wage or reconsidering the harm that will be inflicted to the majority of the legal, long-term foreign workers that he so callously and purposely omitted from HR 1466. There is nothing unfair about my opinions. The unfairness lies in HR 1466 as it stands. It is not "unfair" to point out the fact that the low minimum wage in the CNMI contributes to the extremely high number of food stamp recipients who are funded primarily by US taxpayers.

For the record, I do not have a personal problem with the delegate, but with HR 1466, the unjust, un-American bill that he proposed that will screw 3/4 of the legal, long-term foreign workers. I also object to some of the statements that he has made to a worker leader, including one in particular which was not befitting a member of the U.S. Congress. I do not consider these opinions as personal attacks. I am not one to exhibit blind loyalty to a politician or political party, which results in cover-ups of injustices and does nothing to institute true reform and advance our communities or nation.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear! I appreciate the fact that this site tells it like it is, gives credit where credit is due, and calls out people who deserve to be called out.

I don't get where this post unfairly went after the congressman. It did go after Fitial saying the governor was to blame for the denial of the food stamps to children of aliens. Obviously, fasting won't convince the governor to support SNAP. The congressman may better spend his time convincing members of Congress who'll be voting on his bill.

Anonymous said...

I see that you still harp on Angel and his lobster. Have you ever seen Kilili eat? He gets larger by the day. I recall that his office had one of the biggest food bills in history. Of course all paid for by US Taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

the nmi doesn't need more money for food stamps...kilili proved a person can eat balanced meals on $4.87 a day...he has the menu up to prove it can be done...enough said.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:22 I was thinking that also. Why would Sablan prove that $4.87 is enough money to eat 3 balanced meals a day if he wants more than that for the poor people in the program? This is a backwards protest he put on his site

What's the conclusion going to look like since a nurse came up with a diet and menu and proved $4.67 was enough money. If anyone understands his logic please explain it to us.

Wendy Doromal said...

Anonymous 1:22 and 9:43
Most recipients of food stamps do not have access to a licensed dietician and have an entire family to feed. Poverty and insufficient income for food leads to serious and chronic health problems (such as diabetes and heart disease) as people eat cheaper and unhealthier foods that fill them up. These include foods that are higher in carbohydrates and sugars such as white rice and bread. Fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and fish are more expensive. The menu shows how little a person must eat on such a tiny and unreasonable budget.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't call Sablan's daily diet during his $4.87 protest a "balanced diet".