IN LAST FOUR MONTHS
The CNMI’s participation rate in the food stamp program, called the Nutrition Assistance Program, rose to 5,169 households in June this year, compared to 3,540 households in March. This means an increase of approximately 46% as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Gov. Ralph DLG Torres.
In a letter to Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) dated Aug. 26, Torres said the NAP is faced with an unprecedented increase in participation from households whose incomes were abruptly impeded. “Essentially, there has been a significant increase in the number of households who lack the means of adequate income today and are heavily reliant on NAP benefits,” the governor said.
Torres acknowledged Sablan’s continued efforts to secure additional funding for the CNMI, especially during critical situations such as disasters and the current effects of COVID-19.
Torres said that NAP has $23,237,413 that would be available for expenditure in fiscal year 2021. Of that amount, the governor said, the CNMI has proposed $18,019,089 for Program Benefits and $5,218,314 for administrative costs, that includes $1,688,022 reserved for the Electronic Benefits Transfer system.
Torres said in consideration of the current situation, it is prudent to utilize these periods of participation as the basis for determining estimates for the upcoming fiscal year.
Using the April to June 2020 data, approximately $7,386,725 in program benefits were issued; an average of $2,462,242 of benefits per month for 4,645 average households.
The governor said when projecting out the numbers for 12 months, the estimate would be $29,546,900 necessary for the year. He said the amount that has been proposed for program benefits is $18,019,089. As a result, Torres said, the amount determined as the shortfall would be $11,527,811.
“This amount of funding would be necessary in order to maintain the approved income eligibility standards and maximum benefit allotments that are currently in place,” he said.
In contrast, he said, the CNMI NAP has submitted its proposal to implement the program within the anticipated funding limit for fiscal year 2021 of $23,237,413.
However, the governor said, the current proposal is to reduce the income standards and maximum benefit allotments by 25% beginning Oct. 1, 2020, through March 31, 2021, and eventual reduction of such levels to the pre-ENAP levels from April 1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2021.
Torres said he is hopeful that this necessary reduction in NAP benefits and income-eligibility can be averted with congressional appropriation of additional funding.
“I am further hopeful that you will share this concern with me to ensure that families have adequate food on their tables,” Torres told the delegate.