The Mexican government has been working with the United States Department of Agriculture to increase participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps.
USDA has an agreement with Mexico to promote American food assistance programs, including food stamps, among Mexican Americans, Mexican nationals and migrant communities in America.
“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 explains in a brief paragraph 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.”
The partnership — which was signed by former USDA Secretary Ann M. Veneman and Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Ernesto Derbez Bautista in 2004 — sees to it that the Mexican Embassy and Mexican consulates in America provide USDA nutrition assistance program information to Mexican Americans, Mexican nationals working in America and migrant communities in America. The information is specifically focused on eligibility criteria and access.
The goal, for USDA, is to get rid of what it sees as enrollment obstacles and increase access among potentially eligible populations by working with arms of the Mexican government in America. Benefits are not guaranteed or provided under the program — the purpose is outreach and education.
Some of the materials the USDA encourages the Mexican government to use to educate and promote the benefit programs are available free online for order and download. A partial list of materials include English and Spanish brochures titled “Five Easy Steps To Snap Benefits,” “How To Get Food Help — A Consumer’s Guide to FNCS Programs,” “Ending Hunger Improving Nutrition Combating Obesity,” and posters with slogans like “Food Stamps Make America Stronger.”
When asked for details and to elaborate on the program, USDA stressed it was established in 2004 and not meant for illegal immigrants.
“The partnership with the Mexican embassy was established in 2004,” a USDA spokesman wrote The Daily Caller in an email. “USDA does not perform outreach to immigrants that are undocumented, and therefore not eligible for SNAP.” (RELATED: USDA buckles, removes Spanish food stamp soap operas from website)
Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, who has been pushing for reform of SNAP, sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Wednesday demanding more answers and documents pertaining to the partnership.
The agency has yet to supply documents and information requested by Sessions’ Senate Budget Committee staff, including the Memorandums of Understanding between USDA and the Mexican government regarding the food assistance partnership.
In an interview with TheDC, Sessions explained that the little-known partnership raises questions not just about where tax money is going, but about America’s immigration policy.
“It’s a very disturbing policy, gone on for some years, and it raises very serious questions about American immigration policy as well as fiscal policy,” Sessions said. “Let’s get back to the fundamentals. What happened with the ‘96 welfare reform was to say that if want to you come to America you come legally, you assert you’re not coming for welfare benefits but you’re coming to work or otherwise be independent. There is no logic behind an immigration policy that would encourage immigrants who can’t successfully operate within this society.”
According to Sessions, immigrants who come to America should be able to operate successfully without the aid of government.
“An immigration policy should seek to bring people to the United States who will be able to function independently without government subsidies,” he explained. “We’ve got millions of people that want to come here, millions of people who would be able to perform without a subsidy, so we need to be selecting those people.”
Sessions isn’t simply concerned that the USDA has eschewed transparency with their Mexican partnership or that legal immigrants are encouraged to get on the government’s handout rolls — he is also worried about the lack of protections against undocumented immigrants receiving benefits for which they are not qualified.
As the senator detailed in his letter to Vilsack, and the USDA’s 2011 Guidance on Non-Citizen Eligibility for SNAP explains, although undocumented immigrants are usually not eligible to enroll in SNAP, illegals may enroll their eligible children.
It is up to the states to determine if applicants or households are qualified aliens. In some circumstances, SNAP benefits can be conferred upon people who merely state, upon penalty of perjury, that they are in the country legally.
“Applicants need only attest that they are citizens of the United States, and the state must accept that attestation as conclusive,” Sessions explained in his letter. “Some states currently voluntarily participate in the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program, which allows administrators to run a simple check to determine if non-citizen applicants are eligible for benefits. States that do not use SAVE to verify alien status may simply accept the applicant’s attestation of legal status as a substitute for verification, or, alternately, may accept submitted documents without checking their veracity.”
Sessions offered an amendment to the Senate version of the 2012 farm bill last month which would have required the government to use SAVE — a program similar to E-Verify — to ensure SNAP recipients are in the country legally. The amendment was not brought to the floor for a vote.
According to Sessions’ office, the Congressional Budget Office was unable to estimate how much money the SAVE amendment would have saved because the federal government does not know how many ineligible illegal immigrants have accessed SNAP.
Mexico is the only country with which USDA has a nutrition assistance outreach partnership agreement.