WASHINGTON, D.C.—Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) has introduced legislation that adds $42.5 million to the Enhanced-Nutrition Assistance Program, or E-NAP.
E-NAP began in June and made more Marianas households eligible for food stamps and increased monthly benefits. Sablan’s bill, H.R. 4216, extends the program through 2023.
“Long-term, our goal is equal treatment with the rest of America by inclusion in SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” said Sablan. “The $32.5 million we added in the Agricultural Act of 2014 that has made E-NAP possible was a step in the right direction. Extending E-NAP for another five years keeps us on track to reaching our goal.”
E-NAP allows people with higher incomes to qualify for food assistance. A total of 314 households have been added so far, representing about 1,034 individuals.
“The increase has been gradual,” Sablan said. “Seventy-one new households joined in June, another 91 in July, 87 in August, and 75 in September.
“As the word gets out, people who do not think they would be eligible will step forward to apply.
Still, the number of households that signed up for E-NAP is fewer than expected, when initial projections for use of Sablan’s Agricultural Act funding were submitted by the Commonwealth’s Nutrition Assistance Program office.
“It may be that the improved economy simply means that fewer people need the help,” said Sablan. “But it could also be that families have not heard that there are new income standards and those who may not have been eligible before may now be able to get this extra assistance buying food.”
“People should check with the NAP office to be sure,” he added.
In addition to making households at higher income levels eligible, E-NAP has also raised benefits. For a household of four on Saipan, benefits have gone up from $515 per month to $686. On Tinian, the increase was from $568 to $744. On Rota, benefits went from $719 to $897.
Tinian and Rota have received higher benefits than Saipan since 2014. Advocacy by Sablan and data gathering on the higher cost of food on Tinian and Rota by the Commonwealth NAP convinced the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow different benefit levels on each island.
“At $897 per month, Rota households are getting close to the SNAP benefit that people on Guam receive,” explained Sablan. “But we are not there ye—neither in terms of benefits nor in the income thresholds that SNAP provides.
“That is why I have introduced legislation that will at least continue the Northern Marianas at the current level of funding through 2023,” he said.
“And as the new computerized eligibility system comes online, followed in 2018 by the replacement of paper food stamps with electronic debit cards and other improvements that the money from the 2014 Agricultural Act makes possible, then we may be able to convince the Secretary of Agriculture that the Marianas is ready for SNAP even before 2023.” (PR)