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USDA: $22.5M in unspent NMI food stamp funds

THE U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service said the CNMI “carried forward” to fiscal year 2018 $18.4 million in Enhanced Nutrition Assistance Program pilot funds and $4.1 million in regular NAP grant funds.

The Food and Nutrition Service or FNS responded a couple of weeks ago to U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan’s request for an updated projection of how existing pilot funds are to be spent, together with the annual NAP grant in the next five years.fnsSablan’s office raised this question after the U.S. House Agriculture Committee staff noted the CNMI’s balances from last fiscal year.

The FNS said the CNMI will also receive an additional $8.5 million in Enhanced Nutrition Assistance Program or ENAP funds in FY 2018, bringing the total available balance to approximately $27 million.

Kilili said the unspent funds for food assistance are affecting his effort to get more money for the CNMI’s food assistance program.

In a press briefing on Wednesday, Kilili said he has asked the U.S. House Agriculture Committee for $42.5 million that will be authorized under the Farm Bill.

But he said the committee was concerned about the CNMI’s unspent funds.

“My goal is to make sure that food assistance goes out to the people who need it, and goes to as many people as possible who are potentially eligible for the program. So we have to increase the income eligibility standards and increase the benefits,” Kilili said.

“I’m trying to get additional money. I’m actually asking for $42.5 million to be authorized under the Farm Bill. If we don’t do that we won’t get money for the next five years,” he added.

He said since November, his office has been asking the local NAP office for information that he will need to justify his request for funding increase.

But he said he wasn’t provided   information so he reached out to the USDA Region 9 office instead.

According to the FNS:

“The CNMI launched its ENAP in June of 2017. In simplest terms, the enhancement involves raising income eligibility limits and increasing household benefit levels to serve more residents and provide more generous benefits. These changes are paired with administrative investments intended to improve the efficiency of the program; primarily a modern eligibility system and an electronic benefit transfer system.

“At the time of implementation, NAP participation had declined from FY 2015 and FY 2016 levels. It was anticipated that the changes in income eligibility guidelines and more generous benefits would attract a significant increase in participation once ENAP was implemented. To date, these increased have not occurred. Participation climbed modestly in the late summer and fall of calendar year 2017. Early in CY 2018 participation appears to have remained flat or declined slightly. At current participation levels total annual program expenditures will remain at or near the level of the base NAP grant and ENAP carry over will remain high into the foreseeable future.

“The 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. They are hopeful to achieve an approximately 45 percent increase in participation during the second half of FY 2018 with further increases planned for FY 2019. Under this scenario, current funding would support ENAP through at least FY 2021 and potentially FY 2022. If lower levels of participation are achieved, current funding could potentially support the ENAP into FY 2023 or FY 2024. The CNMI’s ENAP plan provides for an orderly transition back to operating parameters of the base NAP grant as ENAP grant funds are exhausted.”

 

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/103266-usda-22-5m-in-unspent-nmi-food-stamp-funds

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