Politics
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 07:  A sign in a market window advertises the acceptance of food stamps on October 7, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) NEW YORK - OCTOBER 07: A sign in a market window advertises the acceptance of food stamps on October 7, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  

USDA uses Spanish soap operas to push food stamps among non-citizens, citizens [AUDIO]

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Caroline May
Political Reporter

The government has been targeting Spanish speakers with radio “novelas” promoting food stamp usage as part of a stated mission to increase participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps.

Each novela, comprising a 10-part series called “PARQUE ALEGRIA,” or “HAPPINESS PARK,” presents a semi-dramatic scenario involving characters convincing others to get on food stamps, or explaining how much healthier it is to be on food stamps.

The majority of the episodes end with the announcer encouraging the listener to tune in again to see if the skeptic applies for benefits or learns to understand the importance of food stamps to their health.

“Will Claudia convince Ramon to apply for SNAP?” the announcer exclaims at the end of a standard episode titled “The Poet,” “Don’t miss our next episode of ‘HAPPINESS PARK.’”

Listen to “The Poet”:

Click here for English translation
While the United States Department of Agriculture encourages its outreach partners not to stereotype SNAP applicants, the agency’s use of novelas is notable. The USDA is not promoting an equivalent English-language drama series and telenovelas are a popular form of entertainment in Latin American countries and a culturally relevant way to appeal to potential applicants.

The radio novelas are available on USDA’s website for state and local outreach partners to use as public service announcements.

“Congress allocates funds to USDA with the mandate to conduct public education about the benefits of SNAP and how to apply to help reduce hunger in America,” Amanda D. Browne, a USDA spokeswoman explained in an email to The Daily Caller. “The radio spots were written and produced in 2008 and are targeted to communities most at risk for hunger.” (RELATED: USDA combats ‘mountain pride,’ self-reliance to boost food stamp rolls)

USDA does not provide translations on their website, but TheDC obtained the USDA’s English scripts, available below each novela.

Listen to “At the Supermarket”:

Click here for English translation
In addition to the Spanish-language outreach, the USDA is also pushing to get non-citizens enrolled in the program. The radio novelas overcome one of the hurdles the agency has identified as hampering participation: “lack of knowledge” about the program.

“Although many non-citizens are now eligible for SNAP, SNAP participation has been historically low among eligible non-citizen households,” reads a 2011 Guidance on Non-Citizen Eligibility. “In 2008, the participation rate for non-citizens was 51% and the rate for citizen children living with non-citizen adults was 55% as compared to the national participation rate of 67% among all eligible individuals.”

While USDA is targeting non-citizens for SNAP participation, the agency stresses that illegals are not eligible for benefits.

“Non-citizens who are unlawfully present, are not, nor have they ever been, eligible to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits,” Browne told TheDC.

Robert Rector, the Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow on welfare and family issues, noted that while illegals are officially barred from participation, the legal children of illegals are eligible for benefits, creating mixed households with the potential to be intertwined with benefit programs.

Rector added that promotions such the radio novelas are part of the current process of assimilation into American culture.

“The culture [non-citizens] are assimilating into is the culture of welfare dependence,” Rector explained to TheDC, noting that the five-year delay on receipt of benefits by non-citizens does not prevent the infusion of such a mindset.

“The essential thing is that if you bring in immigrants with a high school degree or less, they are going to cost the taxpayer a fortune,” he said. “That’s the bottom line, and you are going to pay for it one way or another.”

In the 1970s, one in 50 Americans were on food stamps — today that figure is one in seven. SNAP spending has doubled since 2008 and quadrupled since 2001.

Listen to more novelas on the next page

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Stephen Elliott contributed to this report.