AS CNMI ECONOMY IMPROVES
New data from the Nutrition Assistance Program shows a steady decline in its Work Registration Program as more recipients are landing jobs in the workforce.
The program, which mandates able-bodied NAP recipients to actively seek employment in order to receive benefits, provides skills training and education in collaboration with the Department of Labor and the Northern Marianas Trades Institute.
Registration peaked back in 2011 with over 700 participants, but has seen a significant drop-off in the number of its registrants over the last several years with the current number dipping below 500 for the first time since 2009.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres is confident that the continued drop in NAP recipients is an indication that more recipients are in the labor force as the economy continues to expand.
“As the economy continues to improve, jobs are becoming more and more available for our residents. For our recipients, it’s clear that increasing their skills will lead them to employment, have higher earnings, and become more self-sufficient,” Torres said.
“NAP plays an important role in reducing food insecurity, especially among our children, but we do want our recipients to continue searching for good jobs because they are out there. With our work of increasing the minimum wage, we can have more of our residents break the cycle of poverty,” he added.
Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Robert H. Hunter said he is very encouraged by the current trend of the reduction in the applications for NAP benefits and its relation to the trend in the declining number of individuals enrolled in the NAP work registration program.
“What the data is showing is an increasing number of NAP recipients making the move into the workforce, and I believe that this trend will continue. The downward trend in NAP applicants generally may also reflect the improvement in wage levels,” he noted. “While we certainly want to make sure that we accommodate every single person who needs food assistance, we want to make sure that we do what we can to see employable individuals transition into the workforce.”
Hunter added that DCCA is currently working with the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to further achieve education, training, and employment goals, as well as revamp eligibility qualifications for NAP benefits.
“With regard to eligibility qualifications, we are looking at options to address families with household incomes that may exceed the current guidelines by a particular threshold, but who still need some level of food assistance. We want to see employable individuals employed, and we also want to ensure that employed individuals remain employed, and do not have to make the choice between their employment or food assistance,” he said.