As the partial U.S. government shutdown enters its third week and barely days before the U.S. bumps against its projected debt ceiling, CNMI recipients of federally funded programs such as infant nutrition assistance and food stamps may have to start preparing for the inevitable in the event funds start to dry up.
“Federal employees in the Northern Marianas and around the country were furloughed without pay. Head Start, the Women, Infants and Children [WIC] program, and other federal funds we rely on are running low,” Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said.
Sablan joined most members of the U.S. House Democratic Caucus in meeting with President Barack Obama on Wednesday as part of efforts to “help bring this crisis to a close.”
Congress and the Obama administration continue to work toward reaching a deal to end the partial U.S. government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.
As of yesterday, there’s no telling whether “prioritization” would be necessary any time soon as far as food stamps or Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in the CNMI are concerned.
As for the WIC program, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. interim chief executive officer Esther Muña reiterated that “as of this date, funds allocated to the WIC program should cover food expenditures through the end of October.”
Muña said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food & Nutrition Services “continues to check in on our program operations.”
“We also anticipate more guidance from FNS in the coming weeks pending passage of a budget,” Muña told Saipan Tribune.
CHC has considered “prioritizing” WIC benefits if the shutdown lasts beyond October, although things could still change.
The WIC program is a federally funded supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children up to 5 years old.
Nationally, analysts say the Obama administration will have to decide whether to delay—or possibly suspend—tens of billions of dollars in Social Security checks, food stamps and unemployment benefits “if negotiations to raise the federal debt ceiling are not resolved this week.”
Sablan also joined 199 other Democrats in a letter to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner last week, urging a vote on funding the entire federal government and ending the shutdown.
“Republicans have insisted on defunding the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in return for keeping the government open. Although not all aspects of the Act apply in the Northern Mariana Islands, we are receiving $109 million in extra Medicaid money, which is helping keep the Commonwealth Health Center in operation, and the Kagman Community Health Center was paid for by Obamacare,” Sablan said.
The CNMI’s elderly or man’amko on Medicare are now eligible for free preventive care and some have seen prescription drug reimbursements improve, the delegate added.
He said CNMI families with health insurance benefited from rebates averaging $187 last year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, because of the Affordable Care Act.
“I do not support repealing the law, although I am certainly open to improving Obamacare and making health insurance more affordable in the Northern Mariana Islands,” Sablan added.
While prioritization, cuts, or suspension of federally funded programs in the CNMI have yet to occur, the U.S. government shutdown has already reached the Commonwealth as early as Oct. 1.
These include the temporary closure of the American Memorial Park grounds and facilities in Garapan and the temporary closure of the U.S. immigration court.
Sablan had said there are federal employees in the CNMI who, along with 800,000 others nationwide, “are being furloughed—laid off until the shutdown ends.”
Gov. Eloy S. Inos has also cautioned CNMI employees to remain vigilant in the event the federal government shutdown is prolonged, even as he assured that CNMI federal grant programs remain in operation.
Unlike federal government employees throughout the nation, CNMI government employees who are considered “federally-funded” draw their salaries from federal grants awarded to the Commonwealth.