If and when the CNMI gets included in the national food stamp program, more people will become eligible to receive benefits, including Freely Associated States citizens, CNMI permanent residents, and spouses of U.S. citizens who have been on the islands for at least five years.
These three groups of people are currently not eligible to receive food stamps in the CNMI.
While the Fitial administration, the Senate, and Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP) have not used this to justify support or oppose a proposal to include the CNMI in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, it is a fact that more individuals will become eligible for food aid should the islands become a part of the national program.
Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) said yesterday that the Senate will act, and likely pass, his bill authorizing the governor to seek the implementation of SNAP in the CNMI, during their session on Tuesday.
His Senate Bill 17-88 says the increased amount of benefits to people to end hunger, the additional tax revenue, and the multiplier impact on the economy outweighs the administrative costs to the government that SNAP requires.
Four other senators-Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian), Sen. Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), and Sen. Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota)-confirmed yesterday their support for Manglona’s Senate Bill 17-88.
Hofschneider said if the intent is to add benefits “by way of putting food on the table, I do support.”
“But I’d rather see that our people get employed first. Of course we all understand the issue of unemployment nationwide. It is for this reason that I will throw in my support to include the CNMI [in the national program] and support the bill,” he said.
Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Melvin Faisao, in a separate interview yesterday, said that allowing more people to receive food stamps in the CNMI is not the main reason why he is opposed to SNAP’s implementation in the CNMI, but the additional costs to the local government.
Still, he told the Senate president that under the national food stamp program, legal immigrants who have been residing in the U.S. for at least five years are eligible to receive food stamp.
Faisao said besides the estimated $650,000 that the CNMI has to put up to cover 50 percent of the administrative costs, the CNMI also has to spend on the infrastructure to support the electronic benefit transfers system that will require the use of “plastic cards” similar to credit cards instead of paper coupons.
RAS Consulting, which the delegate commissioned to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, said the inclusion in SNAP means additional food stamp benefits to CNMI recipients of $19 million in 2013 and $24 million in 2014, with subsequent years through 2021 between $20 million and $24 million.
The total economic impact of $12 million to $24 million in additional SNAP benefits for CNMI beneficiaries would be $21.48 million to $42.96 million.
This means for every $650,000 in administrative costs that the CNMI has to spend, the CNMI economy could get at least $21.48 million in total economic impact.
Still, Faisao said the CNMI government does not have $650,000 to spare.
“Where will we get the $650,000? Not only that. We need money for the interface. Should we cut other services to have money to spend on the SNAP, like education and public safety?” Faisao asked.
This early, some residents, including a worker from the Federated States of Micronesia, are hoping that the CNMI will be included in SNAP to include more people in the program.
Just like independent firm RAS Consulting, DCCA came up with its own analysis if and when the CNMI joins SNAP.
In the RAS Consulting report based on CNMI Nutrition Assistance Program data, a family of four in the CNMI shows an average monthly benefit of $302 a month.
In Guam which is part of SNAP, a family of four receives an average of $985, RAS Consulting said. It also said a family of four gets an average of $668 nationally.
But Faisao said based on DCCA’s study, a CNMI family of four gets an average of $444 in food stamp a month, while the national program gives $666.
Faisao also said the benefit level may be adjusted for CNMI clients when participation in the program increases.
He said for SNAP, the benefit is not changed even if program participation increases.
DCCA data, provided by Faisao to the CNMI Senate president, also shows the average monthly benefit per person under SNAP in fiscal year 2010 was $218.22 in Guam, and $216 .01 in Hawaii. He said the CNMI is $151, if under SNAP.