Washington D.C. – CNMI Congressman Greg ‘Kilili’ Sablan may have one ‘ace’ left in his food stamp fight with Commonwealth Governor Benigno Fitial.
HEAR Matt Kaye’s report HERE>>> 08-19-sablan-fitial-food stamps.mp3
Sablan argues the extra cost to the CNMI of participating in the national food stamp program [SNAP] is worth the millions in new help residents and the economy would receive.
Governor Fitial’s people argue it’s not more food stamps Fitial opposes, but committing to hundreds of thousand in administrative costs to receive those added benefits.
With USDA unwilling to act unilaterally so far and the stand-alone bill’s fate uncertain, the next move, may be up to Sablan. “Bringing the Northern Marianas into the national food stamp program would double the benefits that people are getting now. And the best prospect for this, was to become part of the farm bill, ” adding that “as a member of the agriculture committee, I think I’m in a good position to make that happen.”
But moving the CNMI out of its present ‘block grant’ status, that doesn’t adjust for increased local need, and into the $69-billion dollar “SNAP” program in the 2012 farm bill won’t be easy.
The 2008 farm bill saw a big increase in food stamp spending, which has now doubled since 2007. But the U.S. debt crisis and just enacted debt-curbing steps will squeeze most spending—including nutrition. House AG Chair Frank Lucas at a recent farm bill hearing said: “We all need to eat, and when families fall on hard times, SNAP is a valuable resource that helps insure that no one goes hungry. But in the current economic environment, we need to insure that SNAP benefits are truly going to those families that need support.”
Lucas pointed out, with spending now under severe pressure, savings will be needed throughout all farm bill programs and nutrition is 75% of the farm bill.
USDA claims a record reduction in SNAP payment errors, even though the GAO found $2.2 billion in over payments in 2009, alone.
But with the right argument, Sablan could still make a strong case on the AG Committee, especially with CNMI benefits now half that of neighboring Guam, food costs soaring, and the local economy in steep decline.