War of words erupts in House chamber following DHSS hearing
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A ‘war of words’ erupted in the House chamber yesterday after a hearing with officials from the Dept. of Human and Social Services (DHSS) to discuss food stamp issues.
DHSS director, Muavaefa’atasi John Suisala and his deputy director appeared to testify on the issue, which was raised by faipule this week.
The verbal argument was between Rep. Titiali’i Kitara Vaiau, who chaired the hearing, and Rep. Vesiai Poyer Samuelu.
It all started when Rep. Titiali’i advised Muavaefa’atasi not to provide detailed information to faipule inquiries, because it will waste the committee’s time.
And, when lawmakers asked questions, Titiali’i would interfere and instruct them to read the Performance Report first, before asking questions.
Vesiai told Titialii it’s not his duty to tell the faipule what to do.
“We are not your children,” Vesiai told Titiali’i during the hearing. “We are representatives of respected districts and you have to remember that. Treat us with respect, not with your rude attitude.”
Vesiai's statement did not sit well with Titiali’i who said, “I know what I’m doing and for your information, I have the power to control the hearing because I am the chairman of this committee.”
The verbal altercation occurred after the DHSS witnesses had left the House chamber.
Vesiai humbly advised Titiali’i not to treat honorable faipule like this again, but show respect to the House of Representatives.
Again, Titiali’i fired back. This time, with a loud voice. Titiali’i told Vesiai he has the authority to say whatever he wants during the hearing, because he’s the chairman.
Vesiai told Titiali’i it’s about time to stop his childish acts and behave like a faipule.
Titialii then swore at Vesiai and challenged him to step outside for a fist fight if he wanted to test him.
DHSS is still receiving reports from members of the community about stores accepting food stamps when they are not licensed to do so, and some stores are exchanging food stamps for cash.
This was revealed by Muavaefa’atasi during yesterday's hearing, which was called after Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Fu’e Allen questioned the DHSS procedure in dealing with retailers that are not complying with requirements of the program.
Earlier this week, Faimealelei said he has received reports about stores accepting food stamps without licenses. He added that some store owners are complaining about why DHSS waits one month before sending them notification that their store is being penalized for noncompliance.
According to Faimealelei, based on reports relayed to him, the unlicensed stores take the food stamps to wholesalers who in turn, redeem the food stamp coupons.
Muavaefa’atasi said his staff has been dealing with this problem for many years, and every time they came across it, they follow the steps required by the program.
He said store owners wanting a license to receive food stamps must first undergo training, to ensure they understand all program requirements. The responsibility of the owner, according to a Retailer Agreement they sign, is to school the cashiers on the program requirements.
Once a complaint is received about a store accepting food stamps without a license, Muavaefa’atasi said the first move is to set up a “compliance buy” to confirm the allegations are true.
Once proof is established, the next step is to transfer the issue to the “Program Evaluation Division”.
A letter to inform the owner of the violation is sent out once the investigation is complete. The license is suspended for 6 months if the same store fails to comply with the program requirements three times.
On the issue of stores accepting food stamps without licenses, Muavaefa’atasi said once they confirm the allegation, a letter is sent out to inform the owner of the situation, and advise them to stop the illegal activities. At the same time, the name of the store will be forwarded to the Attorney General.
Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr told Muavaefa’atasi that his staff needs to inform the store owners right away, upon discovery of illegal activities, instead of waiting a month to do so.
Speaking about the importance of individual rights and due process of law, Fetu advised Muavaefa’atasi to take his advice and follow it.
“Once your staff discovers any illegal activities by any store owner, which violate the program requirements, it's your duty as the director of DHSS to immediately inform those store owners and tell them to stop the illegal activities,” Fetu said.