Admin says it did not overspend food stamp money but seeks further USDA clarification

The Fitial administration’s initial finding is that it did not overspend food stamp money that caused the program to cut its benefits by 13.6 percent in May, but it is seeking further clarification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding its letter to Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP) that says the CNMI was issuing monthly benefits averaging at $273 when the agreement was only $242.

Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos said based on that clarification from USDA, the CNMI will acknowledge if it in fact overspent but as of this time, it believes it did not overspend.

Press secretary Angel Demapan separately said that Inos met with CNMI Nutrition Assistance program administrator Eleanor Cruz and two staffers.

Demapan said Inos directed NAP to contact the project officer assigned to the CNMI at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to address this matter and to clarify what the FNS administrator is referencing in her letter to Sablan.

“Once such clarification is ironed out with the project officer, the CNMI will be able to determine what steps, if any, should be implemented moving forward,” Demapan told Saipan Tribune.

FNS Administrator Audrey Rowe pointed to the CNMI’s own overspending that led to the 13.6 percent food stamp benefit cuts beginning May 1, and this was contained in her May 25 letter to Sablan.

The USDA-funded food stamp program is administered locally by NAP, which is under the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs.

Rowe said the CNMI NAP budget was approved with an average benefit level of $242 per household for fiscal year 2012, an increase of some $42. But she said the CNMI instead gave an average of $273 per household-some $31 more per household than agreed upon.

Haidee V. Eugenio | Reporter
Haidee V. Eugenio has covered politics, immigration, business and a host of other news beats as a longtime journalist in the CNMI, and is a recipient of professional awards and commendations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental achievement award for her environmental reporting. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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