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Washington D.C. - CNMI Congressman Greg ‘Kilili’ Sablan accused USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service with violating its own mission by not “lifting a finger” to fix the NMI’s food stamp problem.
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An impassioned Sablan never read his prepared statement, but instead, publicly scolded USDA Food and Nutrition Service Chief Audrey Rowe for allowing Americans in the Commonwealth to go hungry.
“We have, just a few, couple of months ago, reduced by 36% the benefits to everyone in the program and see an increase of 500 on the ‘wait-list’ right now. You, FNS, review and improve the integrity of the program, for the Northern Mariana islands. And you know all of these things that violate what your fundamental mission is, and you won’t lift a finger to fix it!”
Sablan earlier had praised USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack for using recovery act funds to boost by more than 13% the NMI’s fixed food stamp block grant, but with the economy in steep decline, food costs soaring and monthly food stamp benefits half that of next-door Guam, Sablan asked Vilsack for more help and full-inclusion in the “SNAP” program.
Kilili brought the House AG Committee to silence as emotions welled up in the room, when he described the plight of Americans in the farthest reaches of the U.S., unable to afford even the basic necessities of life—while USDA stood by:
“We’ve written a letter to the Secretary, Mr. McGovern was kind enough to sign the letter to Secretary Vilsack. And I have not even received a response. And maybe it’s because I don’t have a vote, here! I hope when you look at me, you seen an American, here. Because those Americans out there that I live with, are going hungry! Seriously! And I know, because I go to their homes. And I need your commitment, Ms. Rowe, please, to work with me on this.”
Rowe was so moved by Sablan’s pleas, she told him, “You have my commitment, on the record.”
Subcommittee Chair Jean Schmidt told Kilili, “You may not have a vote, but you certainly have a voice.”
Sablan told the panel he was “a little embarrassed, telling the whole world, that Americans in my District aren’t getting enough to eat.”
But Kilili wasn’t done stirring emotions. He asked Rowe for her help to get more NMI students, made eligible by the tough economy, into the school lunch program.
And then Sablan delivered this: "And did you know, that in your website, I saw it yesterday, I don’t know if they made changes today, that, under Region-9, they’re still listed as covering the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands? The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands ceased to exist 25-years ago!"
And Sablan says it didn’t even cover the NMI, which became part of the U.S. over 30-years ago. Kilili told Rowe, the flub shows the “absence of the necessary attention, the federal agencies need to give the territories” and in particular, “America’s newest territory, the Northern Mariana Islands.”
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