Hunter: No inquiry made on NAP, ENAP claims


Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Robert Hunter last week said Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) failed to reach out to his office regarding numbers of the Enhanced Nutritional Assistance Program and the Nutritional Assistance Program.

Hunter, said in a retort to Sablan’s claim that his office reached out to DCCA to request for information was ignored, that NAP staff received only a three-line email requesting to include Sablan’s office in the forwarding of an upcoming quarterly ENAP report last October.

“That was it. I never received a letter from the congressman’s office spelling out any timeline on the new Agriculture Bill and letting us know what they would need to aid them in the effort to see us transition into [the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program] in that bill,” Hunter told Saipan Tribune.

Hunter added that over the last six months, he has not received any single “substantial piece of communication” from the delegate’s office.

Sablan in a previous press conference said that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, carried over balances from fiscal year 2017 ENAP and NAP could hinder the CNMI from receiving more funding out of the Farm Bill grant. According to Sablan, $18.4 million leftover ENAP funding was carried over from fiscal year 2017 while $4.1 million of the $12.1 million NAP block grant was carried over. The ENAP funding for fiscal year 2018 started at $27 million. Sablan added that he believes DCCA is biding NAP and ENAP funding to stretch out the funds.

In response to the claims of DCCA penny-pinching funding for it to last longer, Hunter reiterated that the ENAP is carried out as a plan approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services.

“We have carried out that plan meticulously. We have been commended by the FNS for our exemplary implementation of the plan,” Hunter said, adding that the delegate even lauded their handling of the program.

The ENAP, which just began implementation last June, is specifically designed not to expend all of the funds in a short period, unlike a previous proposal from the delegate’s office attempting to secure SNAP pilot funding, said Hunter.

“Nothing in the responses to the congressman’s questions to the USDA, the FNS’ parent department, notes that there is any threat to the NAP or ENAP, or that there is any misadministration of these funds, despite the congressman’s effort to paint that picture. That misinterpretation is the creation of the congressman,” the DCCA secretary said.

“…As the congressman knows (or should know), the ENAP is a living plan. That plan is based on projections produced by the FNS, not the CNMI NAP. We are bound by their projections and we are bound by their approvals for specific implementation,” explained Hunter. He added that DCCA recently met with the FSN to discuss their projections, which they acknowledged “were off” due to nott aking into account the level of growth experienced by the economy.

“Had the congressman extended us the courtesy of real communication with our offices, we would have let him know that we had revised the ENAP income eligibility levels and benefits post-FNS meeting, raising both. We would have let him know that these changes would be made as soon as approval was received. The Department of Agriculture response to the congressman mentions this, but I’m not clear that he understands what it says, ‘CNMI is currently considering, with FNS technical assistance, modifications to the ENAP intended to expand participation. Primary among the changes are further increases to income eligibility and benefit levels as well as additional ENAP promotion.’ Now again, if he’d had enough courtesy to contact us, we could have told him that we are more than “considering”, as we have submitted amendments to the plan that are being considered by the FNS,” said Hunter.

It’s all political

Hunter in his retort to the delegate’s claims added that though unconfirmed, Sablan’s actions is personal and “petty politics.”

“[Sablan’s] supposed concern and hit-piece came only a few days after I posted a pointed critical statement and accompanying illustration as address to a comment he made on social media,” Hunter said. “His concern wasn’t the ENAP, or those that really depend on food assistance—or he wouldn’t be putting a well-run program in jeopardy with the clearly skewed public statements he made about the program. His concern was retaliation for the criticism I posted.”

Hunter said the DOA did not respond to his “pointed questions.”

“The DOA didn’t bite and provide him with the information he was hoping to get, even though he was already set in his course to smear the ENAP handling in some attempt at retaliation. So when he says this isn’t personal or petty politics… That is all it is.”

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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