A total of 130 individuals have been temporarily taken off the food stamp list of recipients within a two-month period, some for not even trying to find a job or showing up for a job interview as required, according to CNMI Labor secretary-nominee Edith DeLeon Guerrero yesterday after a Senate committee public hearing on her appointment.
DeLeon Guerrero is also asking the Nutrition Assistance Program to extend from the current 30 days to six months the period wherein non-compliant food stamp recipients are temporarily taken off the list to help reduce dependence on the program and help promote self-sufficiency.
“That is such a relaxed policy,” DeLeon Guerrero said, referring to the one-month temporary off-list policy. “There’s no way that we’re going to wean them off the system if we have a revolving door policy.”
As of yesterday, NAP has yet to decide on DeLeon Guerrero’s request to extend the 30-day off-list policy.
“But I will definitely be on top of this matter since this is just one of the many transformation initiatives that I am pushing for at the state level,” DeLeon Guerrero told Saipan Tribune.
NAP, which is under the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, administers the federally funded program in the CNMI.
DeLeon Guerrero, as acting Labor secretary, also has the daunting task of collaborating with other workforce stakeholders in ensuring that over 10,000 U.S. workers will be ready to take over the jobs currently held by foreign workers.
If the U.S. Labor secretary does not grant the CNMI government’s request to extend the transitional CW program beyond Dec. 31, 2014, the Commonwealth would lose immediate access to some 12,000 foreign workers—unless these positions are filled with qualified U.S. workers.
Based on the 2010 U.S. Census data, unemployment rate in the CNMI is 11.2 percent.
“About 10,711 of the total population are not in the employment workforce. You can see the scale in terms of how many individuals are not working as of Census 2010 data,” DeLeon Guerrero said.
On the first round of detailed reporting since DeLeon Guerrero became acting labor secretary on Oct. 3, the CNMI Department of Labor reported 68 non-compliant food stamp recipients.
These were followed by three other reports with non-compliant food stamp beneficiaries of 46, 12, and four.
“The total non-compliant recipients Labor reported to NAP is 130,” DeLeon Guerrero said.
At least 84 other individuals have pending compliance report as of yesterday, additional data from DeLeon Guerrero’s office show.
DeLeon Guerrero, whose nomination as Labor secretary drew strong support from community members yesterday on Capital Hill, said that extending the period of suspension will help ensure that able-bodied individuals “become self-sufficient and truly engaged in the workforce community so that they can feed their family with their hard-earned dollars.”
She said people who qualify to receive food stamp ought to receive assistance, but there are also things that these recipients need to do.
And as workforce stakeholders, Labor needs to encourage people to “work and produce that income for the family” so that they’re able to buy their own car, build their own home, or send their children to college.
The Senate Committee on Executive Appointments and Government Investigations, headed currently by acting chair Sen. Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota), received testimony from the public yesterday morning—all in support of DeLeon Guerrero’s nomination.
Senators also took turns asking her questions.
One of them, Senate floor leader Ray Yumul (Ind-Saipan), said it’s not only about training U.S. workers but also about having private sector employers hiring them.
Overall, the panel is poised to recommend DeLeon Guerrero’s confirmation to the full Senate.
Acting Senate president Victor Hocog (R-Rota) said the Senate may hold a session on Friday, depending on the outcome of the EAGI Committee’s public hearings on DeLeon Guerrero’s nominations and that of others, including Superior Court associate judge-nominee Teresa Kim-Tenorio, set for 10am today.
In an interview after the public hearing yesterday, DeLeon Guerrero said she believes in performance, accountability, and success.
In her statement before the committee, DeLeon Guerrero said she does not come with the attitude of “what’s in it for me” but rather, “what is best and needed to be done to bring the CNMI state in good standing with its federal grantor so that employment and training dollars intended for those that are in need are not jeopardized.”
She also cited 15 specific plans for Labor, including implementation of “transformation changes” where “business is no longer as usual” and “reducing food stamp dependency.”
Before her appointment as acting Labor secretary, DeLeon Guerrero was executive director of the Workforce Investment Agency from 2006 to Oct. 2, 2013.
Gov. Eloy Inos merged WIA with Labor, and appointed DeLeon Guerrero to head Labor. Her nomination requires the Senate’s advice and consent.
In a recent two-day job fair, Labor saw over 450 individuals coming out looking for work.
But in the CNMI Labor’s system, there’s 1,742 individuals that have registered looking for work, DeLeon Guerrero told reporters.
“We’re looking carefully at all JVAs [job vacancy announcements] and which individuals are qualified for those positions. We’re making referrals to companies in the private sector,” she said.
There have been private sector firms that were called in or warned for not complying with local labor laws related to hiring of qualified U.S. workers, she added.
U.S. Public Law 110-229, the law that placed CNMI immigration under federal control, “did not preempt the local labor laws,” DeLeon Guerrero said.
One of the provisions in the CNMI labor law that is under review is the exemptions for small companies to hire at least one U.S. worker if they have less than five employees.
“However, if you have been licensed to do business in the Commonwealth for three years and more, you must have at least one U.S. citizen employee,” she said.