Current recipients of the Nutrition Assistance Program will have their benefits increased effective June 1, 2017, in accordance with the Enhancement Plan CNMI submitted and approved by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service. The Enhancement Plan increases the “basis of issuance” for all eligible households in the CNMI.
The basis of issuance is the maximum monthly benefit allotment an eligible household may receive. If a household does not have income, they will receive the maximum benefit allotment based on the number of eligible persons in the household. However, if a household is receiving any type of income, that income will be used to determine the appropriate benefit allotment for which the household is eligible.
The basis of issuance varies between Saipan, Tinian, and Rota and Northern Islands. For example, the maximum benefit allotment for a household size of four on Saipan was $515 and will be increased 45 percent to $748. The maximum benefit for a four-person household on Tinian will be increased about 42 percent from $568 to $804, while the Rota and Northern Islands maximum benefit will be increased 33 percent from $719 to $957.
Additionally, the NAP provides benefits to NAP-certified Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries, and these minimum monthly allotments will also be increased as part of the Enhancement Plan. Minimum allotments on Saipan will increase from $23 to $32 per person. The minimum allotments on Tinian will increase from $26 to $35, while minimum allotments on Rota and Northern Islands from $32 to $41.
The Nutrition Assistance Program has been awarded block grant funding of $12.148 million for the regular program for Fiscal Year 2017; however, the basis of issuance increases will be funded from Section 4031 of the 2014 Agricultural Act grant of $30.5 million. The grant will be allotted to the CNMI in a three-year period beginning with $13.5M in FY 2016, $8.5M in FY 2017 and $8.5M in FY 2018 and shall be available to the CNMI NAP until expended.
The CNMI submitted an Enhancement Plan for the use of these supplemental funds, which was approved by USDA Food and Nutrition Service on May 12, 2017. The CNMI enhancement plan covers a four-year period of variable adjustments to the NAP’s basis of issuance, minimum allotments, and the income eligibility standards.
Effective, June 1, 2017, the income eligibility standards will be increased for the first time since October 1, 1997, increasing the current level 37 percent. A household size of four that was limited to $933 monthly gross income has been increased to monthly gross income of $1,277 in order to qualify for NAP assistance.
As part of the approved Enhancement Plan, the NAP will also utilize Section 4031 funds to develop a new NAP Eligibility System to replace the existing legacy system. The new eligibility system will further enhance the data management and customer service, and will permit registered applicants to transmit required documentation via an online client portal. A retailer portal will also be created to allow retailers to submit applications and documentation online.
Ongoing development of the new eligibility system is in progress and is expected to be completed by January 2019. Building a new eligibility system is a requisite to integrate an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system, which will replace paper coupons with a debit card system. EBT will provide improved benefit transaction and monitor purchases, and will help prevent fraud and abuses. The cost of integrating EBT with the new eligibility system will also be funded by the Section 4031 funds. Integrating an EBT system may take up to two years to complete following the implementation of the new eligibility system.