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UPDATE: Hot meals to replace the TAOA vouchers

fili@samoanews.com

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has authorized the “hot meals” program to replace the food voucher program for senior citizens registered with the Territorial Administration Aging after the federal grantor declined American Samoa’s request for a waiver.
 
“The Governor had fought hard to retain the food voucher program based on the wishes of our seniors citizens expressed in the survey which TAOA conducted to determine their preference between hot meal and food vouchers,” the governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira told Samoa News, last Friday.
 
“Senior citizens overwhelmingly stated their preference to hold on to the food voucher program because of convenience and freedom to spend on the food they desire,” he said responding to Samoa News inquires.
 
Iulogologo also said the governor had written letters to the federal administrator of the senior citizen program “requesting a waiver because of our culture and the absence of an infrastructure to prepare the meals for the seniors and the response was always negative, stating that the law didn't allow for food vouchers.”
 
He explained, “Based on this insistence and the potential loss of funds for non compliance, the Governor authorized the hot meal program as mandated. The Governor had pointed out [to the federal grantor] the cultural issues connected with the hot meal program, nevertheless cultural sensitivities of federal programs continue to plague local efforts to maximize the benefits and relevance to the unique needs of our people.”
 
A report released early last year on federal “Grants to the Outer Pacific FY 2012” that included America Samoa states in part that the territory “originally planned to transition from the food voucher program to a congregate and home delivered meals program in 2012.”
 
“...however, there is no substantive effort undertaken on the part of the Territorial Administration on Aging, and the State Unit is waiting for the new administration to take on this task after the 2012 gubernatorial election,” according to the report, which covers all federal grants awarded in FY 2012 to insular areas.
 
The report further states funding for the senior citizens programs nationwide had been for years through the federal Older American Act, but in April 2012, the U.S. Health & Human Services formed a new division — the Administration for Community Living (ACL) —, which is an initiative to ensure the fullest inclusion of “all people in the life of our nation.”
 
In this new entity, ACL brought together the Administration on Aging (AoA), the Office on Disability and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities into a single agency.
 
Meanwhile, It was just a couple of months ago the value of food vouchers were increased from $25 to $40 a month, thanks to a local government subsidy, which is matching funds included in the fiscal year 2014 budget. TAOA’s approved FY 2014 budget includes $2.04 million in grant and $395,000 in local match.
 
Territorial Administration on Aging (TAOA) director Ale Tifimalae told Samoa News that discontinuing the food voucher and replacing it with the “hot meals” is to comply with federal funding for program, and also to fully comply with federal regulations.
 
American Samoa is the only state or territory using food vouchers. The rest of the U.S. and territories have been using hot meals for a long time, Ale said last Friday. He further explained that failing to comply with federal regulation could also put the program on “high risk” status.
 
TAOA plans to announce soon locations for meetings with seniors to discuss this change, which is being planned for implementation later this year in April or May.
 
The department is looking at requesting support from local churches for the use of their halls for hot meal distribution sites for eastern and western districts as well as the bay area.
 
When the time comes to implement the hot meals program, Ale says this will be the opportunity for the business community such as restaurants, to cook and prepare the foods for delivery to the designated sites. He says this will be a boost to the private sector.
 
Currently there are 3,700 senior citizens registered with various programs offered by TAOA and this includes the food voucher program.
 
BACKGROUND
 
The last time the “hot meals” issue surfaced to replace food vouchers was in the beginning of 1994 and that prompted swift complaints from senior citizens and lawmakers. The latter held hearings.
 
At the time, Samoa News reported the food voucher would be phased out and replaced with hot meals; and the Department of Education was to be paid $700,000 a year to prepare 2,500 hot meals a day. TAOA was also to pay $150 a month for the use of 23 designated centers — six in Manu’a and the rest on Tutuila — or $41,400 a year for the distribution of the meals.
 
In 1994, it was estimated local grocery stores would lose about $600,000 a year in sales from the switch of food vouchers to hot meals.
 
Then Gov. A.P. Lutali had instituted the food voucher program in 1985 during his first term in office to revive the nutrition program, which was terminated six months earlier due to abuse of the hot meal and food basket program in 1984. 
 
The main reason behind the feds recommendation of the revival of the “hot meal” program was the misappropriation of government funds involving some former TAOA staff members at the time.
 
The hot meal program was implemented, however, Lutali halted it, after receiving “numerous” complaints from senior citizens, who felt their individual needs would not be served by the hot meal program. The seniors argued the “getting together” of senior citizens at designated centers for a hot meal was not Samoan and interfered with their multitude of daily home chores.



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