TAOA meal program in big trouble according to agency personnel
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Issues regarding the quality, portion and timing of the food distribution to the elder population raised in the Fono has led to a hearing before the House of Representatives.
Territorial Administration on Aging Director Evelyn Lili’o Satele and her subordinates appeared to testify on issues raised by the lawmakers.
The faipule heard first hand from TAOA that they need financial assistance. Deputy Director, Kuresa Paopao, who has been with TAOA for over 30 years, testified that their office is operating on finances from the federal government with a minimal contribution from the local government.
He acknowledged the Fono’s concerns raised pertaining to services provided for the elders in the territory.
“What we need is your help in terms of assistance, we received financial assistance from the government at one time, that was it, but we — our office is funded from federal grants.
“Which is saddening,” said Paopao.
He then compared Samoa to American Samoa.
“Our elders from Apia that live in the territory, travel to Apia to cash their pension checks, and that is their entitlement as citizens of Samoa, whereas for elders here, they only get a retirement and social security check.
“Therefore I am behooved to request to your honorable members to please look into this. As I said, I have worked in the TAOA office for over 30 years — we only received $100,000 from the government,” said Paopao.
Faipule Luaitua Gene Pan questioned the TAOA Director on the number of distribution sites around the island.
Mrs. Satele confirmed that two years ago, they moved from distribution centers to having restaurants cater and in the latest bids, five restaurants on Tutuila were awarded the meal bid.
“Unfortunately two at the very last minute were not able to fulfill the contract. So we currently have 3 restaurants serving meals — Nighthawk, Shantay's and Emilio's and then we do have a distribution center in Fagaitua, due to the lack of restaurant facilities in that area.
“Manu’a has become another concern of ours because the restaurant that was serving the people there recently the owner retired and so we no longer have distribution there. Ofu and Olosega are okay, but for Tau we are preparing a box meal consisting of several cases of food which will be sent over now that the Manu’atele is able to sail.”
She confirmed that elders of Manu’a have not received this service for several months “unfortunately due to the lack of transportation of the Manu’atele.”
The director said there are approximately 3,000 seniors who are receiving meals but the number varies.
According to Mrs. Satele two years ago it was between $50,000 to $60,000 a month in meals and that number went as high as almost $90,000.
“And that became our problem because of the popularity of the program. So with this new plan where we've had to cap the number of meals that are served, it’s bringing the price down to approximately $70, 000 but the numbers per day do vary depending on elders attending faalavelaves, but we are serving approximately 3,000 seniors.”
She said that 3,000 people do not pick up everyday.
The faipule said his concerns were raised in the Fono after one of his elderly constituents reached out to him, saying that when they went to pick up their meals from one of the vendors the vendor told them they can only supply 200 meals, once they reach that number whoever is behind will not get a meal.
“That's my concern and it shouldn't be like that. I mean, we can talk about the financial help later but my concern is the service to the elderly folks,” he said.
Luaitua cited another concern that elders are rushing to pick up their meals if its limited and that should not happen, otherwise they won’t get a meal.
“My question is, is that right and fair?” asked Luaitaua.
The director explained that it’s definitely not something they wanted to do.
“We have sufficient grant money to fund the program and many more meals to be served but it's a local match [that’s lacking] and unfortunately our vendors were not paid for a period of six months because of the lack of the local match, we had to wait for the new fiscal year in the new quarters to come in.
“So we try to determine what we can do and so it is quite a cut but that's the only alternative we have until additional [local] funding is located to match the funding coming from the federal government,” said the director.
Samoa News reached out to vendors and they are unwilling to speak out about the specific amount of money they are owed, only saying it is in the thousands; and it is causing them financial stress in terms of paying their personnel, suppliers and overhead.