USDA meets with Mexico, ‘slow-walking’ Congress on food stamp outreach to immigrants

While it is already known that personnel from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) met with Mexican embassy officials this year to discuss nutrition assistance outreach efforts to immigrants, the agency is “slow-walking” a U.S. Senate effort to obtain information about the USDA’s partnership with Mexico to get more people enrolled in nutrition assistance programs.

According to both the USDA and the Mexican embassy, USDA personnel meet “periodically” with officials from the Mexican embassy to discuss nutrition “assistance and education” pertaining to 15 domestic nutrition assistance programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps.

The most recent meeting was in February, according to Mexican embassy spokesman Ricardo Alday.

Neither the Mexican embassy nor the USDA have revealed the content of these meetings.

“As a matter of practice we do not discuss the content of private meetings and regular government-to-government consultations in or with the media,” Alday wrote in an email to The Daily Caller.

Last week, TheDC revealed that since 2004 the USDA and Mexico have been involved in a partnership to promote American food assistance programs, including food stamps, among Mexican Americans, Mexican nationals and migrant communities.

“USDA and the government of Mexico have entered into a partnership to help educate eligible Mexican nationals living in the United States about available nutrition assistance,” the USDA summarizes on their “Reaching Low-Income Hispanics With Nutrition Assistance” web page. “Mexico will help disseminate this information through its embassy and network of approximately 50 consular offices.”

Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, formally pressed Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for more documents and information about the partnership “without delay” on July 18.

In his letter to Vilsack, Sessions requested the Memorandums of Understanding between USDA and the Mexican Government regarding the nutrition assistance programs; a list of all meetings or other activities involving USDA and the Mexican government, as well as outreach materials distributed or displayed to increase enrollment; and any internal documents from USDA to the Mexican government dealing with assistance enrollment.

The senator further asked whether outreach materials are being distributed across the border; if people are filling out applications inside consulate offices; the number of non-citizen immigrants that have been enrolled in SNAP over the last decade; and whether the agency supports uniform implementation of the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program to ensure that illegals are not illegally obtaining food stamps.

On Wednesday, the agency responded, just barely meeting two of his demands, providing a Memorandum of Understanding with Mexico and a standard information packet of brochures about the nutrition assistance programs that are provided to Mexican consulates for outreach.

In his response letter to Sessions on Wednesday Vilsack noted the importance of SNAP in the current economy and added that the agency is in the process of “compiling the most comprehensive response” to the rest of Sessions requests. He provided no timeline for when the request would be fulfilled.

“Given the significant economic dislocation of recent years, SNAP remains a critical tool to help many families put food on the table until they get back on their feet,” Vilsack wrote. “SNAP and other nutrition assistance programs have never been more urgently needed than they are now. We are committed to making nutrition benefits available to all those who need them and are legally eligible to receive them.”