The U.S. House Appropriations Committee set last week a $12.148-million food stamp funding for the CNMI in fiscal year 2013, $1 million lower than the fiscal year 2012 budget of $13.148 million. This is contained in the committee's completed fiscal year 2013 spending bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP) said this is the funding level that President Barack Obama recommended.
“Last year, we were able to get the department to recommend more funding to Congress in August and that resulted in a total of $13.148 million in the final bill. Clearly, we have our work cut out for us this year, as well, to protect those who need help buying food for their families,” Sablan said.
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said Sablan has been more focused on food stamp issues, which make the CNMI look like a welfare state. Fitial opposes Sablan's proposal to place the CNMI under the national food stamp program.
The 2013 funding comes at a time when the CNMI Nutrition Assistance Program cut food stamp benefits by 13.6 percent beginning May 1, but the U.S. Food and Nutrition Services pointed to the CNMI's own overspending that led to the cut.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also said there is no restoration of the $4.5 million in de-obligated food stamp program block grant that the CNMI was unable to use from fiscal years 2007 through 2011.
Sablan, at the same time, said Congress is reauthorizing farm and food assistance laws this year and the national food stamp program is on the chopping block.
Last week, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the “farm bill” cutting food stamps by $4 billion.
The House Agriculture Committee, where Sablan sits, will mark up its version of the bill beginning July 11 and may make even deeper cuts to the nutrition programs, which the Republican majority says is “middle-class welfare.”
“WIC, school lunches, and agricultural and research programs that the Northern Marianas College receives may also be targeted by Republicans-funds that are desperately needed in the Northern Marianas,” Sablan said.
Rebates for over 1,000 in CNMI
Sablan also announced that over 1,000 health insurance customers in the CNMI will soon receive a premium rebate, thanks to “Obamacare.”
The average rebate in the CNMI will be $782 for each qualifying family, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“The $782 average rebate per insured household in the CNMI is the third highest in the nation. The national average is $151,” Sablan said.
Insurance companies must pay the rebate by Aug. 1.
The announcement came as the Supreme Court prepares possibly to overturn the new health care reform law this week.
The new law requires that insurance companies spend at least 80 percent of customers' premiums on health care services. No more than 20 percent can be used for marketing, salaries, and other administrative overhead.
Beginning this year, insurers who do not spend at least 80 percent on care must rebate some of the premiums.
Over $291,000 will be rebated in the form of mailed checks, electronic transfers, or a reduction in future premiums.
“This 80/20 rebate is one more reason why I fought long and hard to get some of the coverage of Obamacare extended to the Northern Marianas. Along with the $100 million increase in Medicaid funding we got, consumer protections such as not charging women more for health insurance than men, and lower drug costs for seniors on Medicare, this is why I pray that the Supreme Court does not kill Obamacare. The Supreme Court could rule as early as Monday,” Sablan added.