The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service has approved an increase in income eligibility with ENAP funding for the CNMI, allowing more families to avail of food assistance.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres announced the approval yesterday, crediting the work of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Robert Hunter, Nutrition Assistance Program administrator Walter Macaranas, and “our hardworking staff” at the NAP.
“We successfully negotiated for an increase in income eligibility so that more families can avail of food stamps,” Torres said.
“This increase in eligibility standards will go a long way in helping our man’amko, our children, and families who do not have enough food. Fulfilling our families’ basic nutrition has been a critical priority of this administration, and increasing income eligibility allows people to receive food benefits while increasing personal income, growing skills, and participating in our economy.
“I commend the work of our employees at the DCCA and NAP, who truly were the ones who accomplished this for our families in need,” Torres said.
NAP completed its annual budget negotiation and discussions about ENAP with the USDA-FNS on Aug. 23, 2018.
The negotiation was led on the CNMI side by Hunter, Macaranas, and NAP accountant Telly Olkeriil; Jesus Mendoza, regional administrator USDA-FNS, Dennis Stewart, SNAP director, and Maribelle Balbes, disaster assistance coordinator, on the FNS side.
Hunter said a major result of the meeting was the approval by the FNS of the NAP’s pending request to increase income eligibility with ENAP funding in the CNMI.
“The FNS approved an increase in the CNMI’s NAP income eligibility standards to that of 100 percent of poverty level guidelines recognized in the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This means a qualified single individual would be eligible if they earned $1,005 or less per month. As it follows, a family of two could bring in earnings of $1,354 and qualify, a family of three $1,702, a family of four $2,050, and a family of five $2.399. This is an increase from the current $841 per month cap on earnings and the NAP’s normal earnings cap of $541. The increased income eligibility level will go into effect beginning Oct. 1 of this year,” Hunter said.
Macaranas noted that the ENAP plan was designed to increase benefits and transition the NAP to operate more similarly to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, including the development of an eligibility system that can accommodate an EBT (card)-based system.
“It was the intention of the plan that there would be a high possibility of the NAP seeing a transition into the SNAP through the new Agricultural Bill (Farm Bill). However, the FNS reported to the NAP that the window to see that language in the bill is likely closed. There was no language placed in the bill in Congress to see the CNMI transition into the SNAP. This will mean that the next opportunity for the CNMI to get into the SNAP will be in five years, and that beneficiaries receiving the increased benefits and increased income eligibility will be stepped down from those after 2019,” Macaranas added.
The NAP was informed that because the CNMI is in a unique position, one of only three territories operating under a block grant, that increased funding necessary to continue the current or forthcoming income eligibility and benefit levels can only be authorized by Congress to increase the CNMI NAP block grant to levels that will accommodate that. As the CNMI transitions into SNAP was not included in the current Agricultural Bill, this is the only avenue to see current levels maintained or increased.
With the NAP benefits at the cap, this recent approval for an increase in income eligibility will make more families with a higher monthly income, eligible through 2019.
“The NAP is improving people’s lives with compassion day in and day out. We commend their hard work and dedication,” Torres said. “More and more people are following their dreams, entering our workforce, and stabilizing their families because we have put in place programs within the system for them to become self-sufficient while meeting their basic nutrition. I believe in the power of social support systems to provide a hand up to those in need. Increasing the eligibility will help in achieving this goal.”
Additional information regarding the increases made to the income eligibility standards and other changes will be provided at a later date. (PR)