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Food stamp benefits to be reduced by 13% next month

blue@samoanews.com

The Director for the American Samoa Department of Human and Social Services (DHSS), Taeaoafua Dr. Meki Solomona, announced yesterday that benefits for all recipients of the American Samoa Nutrition Assistance Program (ASNAP) will be reduced by 13%  effective January 2014. 
 
According to a statement from DHSS yesterday, “this action is necessary due to a 5% reduction in federal funding for the ASNAP for fiscal year 2014.”
 
In a letter dated November 20, 2013 to Director Taeaoafua from the Acting Regional Administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), FNS Regional Administrator Jesus Mendoza wrote, “Based on our July 9-10, 2013 negotiations at our office, and our review of subsequent information transmitted to us, we approve ASNAP’s budget in the amount of $7,641,666 for federal fiscal year 2014. This is a reduction from the initial tentative budget approval of $8,034,000 at the time of the July negotiations”.
 
He continued, “please provide FNS a detailed budget for the reduced amounts approved in this letter by December 15, 2013”.
 
The DHSS statement says, “Since January is three months into the fiscal year, the 5% reduction for fiscal year 2014 will now be compressed into nine months.”
 
It clarifies, “the revised budget that was submitted to FNS earlier this month reduces costs for both ASNAP administration and benefits for nine months effective January 1, 2014. In addition to the reduction of benefit levels for close to 4,700 recipients, the revised budget also takes into consideration the cost for benefits for new recipients who are added to the ASNAP rolls each day.”
 
The revised budget that includes the 13% reduction in ASNAP benefits was approved by FNS on Tuesday, December 24, 2013.
 
The new amounts for ASNAP benefits, also known as food stamp coupons, are as follows:
 
Current Benefit     New Amount
 
$160     $139
 
$128     $111
 
$102     $89
 
$82     $71
 
$64     $56
 
To meet the federal requirement of notifying recipients 10 days in advance of any reductions in benefits and to allow the ASNAP employees to change benefit levels for all ASNAP recipients, the issuance for food stamp coupons for the month of January will begin Monday, January 6, 2014 instead of Thursday, January 2, 2014.
 
Taeaoafua extends his appreciation to the people of American Samoa, particularly to the ASNAP recipients for their understanding of the need to implement this reduction in benefits, especially given poor economic conditions in the territory.
 
Any recipient, authorized representative of an ASNAP recipient or any concerned member of the community who needs additional information is asked to contact Josie Lutali at the ASNAP at 633-7720 or visit their Eligibility Worker (caseworker) at the ASNAP office in Utulei across from the DDW Restaurant.
 
BACKGROUND
 
In the US, benefits decreased starting Friday, Nov. 1 for more than 47 million Americans who receive food stamps. The cuts, according to the AP, are a result of “a temporary benefit from the 2009 economic stimulus that boosts food stamp dollars” no longer being available beginning Nov. 1.
 
A total increase of 20% in food stamp benefits was approved for the territory and went into effect in January 2010.
 
(The request for a 20% increase for local food stamp recipients was made to reflect the actual increase in food costs in American Samoa at the time, based on reports from the Department of Commerce’s Consumer Price Index).
 
January’s decrease in benefits is the first decrease in benefits since the increase went into effect nearly three years ago, and is a result of the federal sequestration, which is still in effect and is set to kick in for the second year next month.
 
If Congress doesn’t act on it, funding levels for states and territories will be affected across the board, American Samoa included. On average, the local DHSS pays out over $1 million every month between food stamps and WIC checks.
 
The food stamp program has more than doubled in costs since 2008, now almost $80 billion a year, according to the AP.  Last month, negotiations in Congress started on a wide-ranging farm bill, including cuts to the food stamp program. “Five-year farm bills passed by both the House and the Senate would cut food stamps… But the two chambers are far apart on the amounts,” Yahoo News reports.
 
“Legislation passed by the GOP-controlled House would cut food stamps by an additional $4 billion annually and tighten eligibility requirements”… and, “The Senate farm bill would cut a tenth of the House amount, with Democrats and President Barack Obama opposing major cuts.”
 
Those interested in the ASNAP program must either be elderly, blind, or disabled. In addition, the applicant must not exceed a gross monthly income of $1,008 and they must obtain clearance from the Immigration Board to reside in the territory.



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