Senate OKs CNMI inclusion in SNAP

Posted on Oct 19 2011
By Haidee V. Eugenio

The Senate passed last night by a vote of 7-0 a bill seeking to include the CNMI in the national food stamp program, which could result in an additional $19 million in 2013 and $24 million in 2014 in food stamp benefits to CNMI recipients, among other things.

Senate Bill 17-88 authorizes the governor to seek implementation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the CNMI in the same manner as it is being implemented in Guam.

Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota), author of the bill, said that while there are concerns, a consulting firm has concluded that the benefits to recipients and the CNMI economy outweigh the effect of shouldering 50 percent of the administrative costs.

Of nine senators, only seven were present yesterday.

S.B. 17-88 now goes to the House.

This early, some House members have already expressed support or opposition to the measure.

Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan) and Rep. Joe Palacios (R-Saipan) separately said they support the CNMI’s inclusion in the national food stamp program. Yumul said it will increase funding to those who qualify, and will strengthen monitoring for fraudulent use.

He said there will be no more coupons, just card swiping like a credit card.

“Those stores interested in the program must comply. One possible downside is that funds from the program will go directly to the cards so therefore the CNMI government may not be involved with the handling of the funds,” Yumul said.

Rep. Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan) said the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs secretary’s reasons for not supporting inclusion in the national food stamp program has merit.

DCCA Secretary Melvin Faisao said that 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.

Inclusion in the SNAP will also mean that more people in the CNMI 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.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP) also wants the CNMI included in SNAP.

He commissioned a study by RAS Consulting that said, among other things, that the total economic impact of the $12 million to $24 million in additional SNAP benefits for CNMI beneficiaries would be $21.48 million to $42.96 million.

This means that 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.

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