USDA mum on details pertaining to USDA-Mexico food stamp partnership, non-citizen participation in welfare

On the same day that Senate Budget Committee Republicans revealed that spending on federal welfare programs constituted the single largest expenditure in the 2011 budget, the Department of Agriculture failed to meet a key deadline to further explain its food stamp partnership with the Mexican government.

According to the Congressional Research Service, food assistance programs expanded more than any welfare category in the previous four years — with a percentage increase largely fueled by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, which recently reached an all-time high enrollment of nearly 47 million participants.

Non-citizen participation in SNAP has quadrupled since 2001 and doubled since 2008.

Despite the swelling food stamp rolls, the USDA has been partnering with the Mexican government since 2004 to promote nutrition assistance among Mexican-Americans, Mexican nationals and migrant communities.

“I have serious concerns about this [Mexico partnership]. It defies rational thinking for the United States — now dangerously $16 trillion in debt — to partner with foreign governments to help us place more foreign nationals on American welfare, and it is contrary to good immigration policy for the United States,” Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions’ wrote to USDA chief Tom Vilsack in a Oct. 9 letter seeking more information about the partnership. “Yet the current Administration has conducted approximately 30 meetings and activities with the Mexican government in furtherance of this controversial alliance.”

Thursday was Sessions’ deadline for the USDA to respond to the Oct. 9 questions, which pertained to the details of the administration’s more than 30 SNAP meetings with the Mexican government, as well as to the cost of non-citizen participation in the program.

“One particularly indefensible promotion is USDA’s official partnership with Mexican consulates to increase food stamp registration among foreign nationals. This lies contrary to both sound economics and sound immigration policy,” Sessions said in a Friday statement reacting to the agency’s failure to meet the deadline. “The USDA was given a deadline of yesterday to provide needed information to Congress regarding the details of this partnership and has failed to do so. This is deeply concerning.”

Sessions also requested that the USDA make good on Vilsack’s recent assurance that the agency does “not pressure any eligible person to accept benefits, nor is our goal to simply increase the number of program participants,” by eliminating the myriad materials pressuring people to enroll in SNAP.

The senator further asked that USDA explain its understanding of the immigration law term “public charge,” meaning someone likely to become primarily reliant on government assistance for subsistence.

While those likely to become a “public charge” are prohibited from legal entry, the term in recent years has been watered down. There are more than 80 federal welfare programs, but only two specific programs — Supplemental Social Security Income and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — currently factor into the determination of whether someone is a public charge. Reliance on programs like SNAP may not be considered in the public charge determination.