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

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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.

The minority side of the Senate Budget Committee has attempted to obtain additional information from the USDA, The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department about non-citizen participation in America’s welfare system, and the agencies’ application — or lack thereof — of immigration law to bar those likely to be become reliant on government from entry.

“Included in the [Oct. 9] oversight letter was a request for information about USDA’s contact with the Departments of State and Homeland Security regarding immigration law. Both DHS and DOS have effectively nullified the federal law that prohibits admission into the U.S. for those likely to become welfare reliant, further enabling USDA to surge non-citizen registration,” Sessions said. “Such activities cannot be justified to the American people, which probably explains why the Administration has been unwilling to provide answers.”

On Thursday, Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Robert Rector pointed out in Heritage’s Morning Bell that roughly a third of the U.S. population participates in at least one means-tested program monthly.

“Low-skill immigrant households are very heavy users of means-tested welfare. They receive on average about $10,000 per year in means-tested aide every year of their lives and looking at their total government fiscal situation they will receive about $3 of overall government benefits for every dollar of taxes that they pay,” Rector said in an interview with The Daily Caller, adding that the influx of low-skill immigrants has “clearly” added to the welfare increase. Rector said that, in 2007, immigrant households received 18 percent of all means-tested welfare benefits.

According to Rector, there is a perfect storm in the U.S., consisting of low-skilled immigration and a large welfare state.

“What we are doing now is we are bringing people in who are dramatically lower skilled than the average American and we also have this massive welfare state that didn’t exists before — this trillion dollar welfare state that’s absorbing 6 percent of GDP,” Rector said. “And when you bring in all of these low skilled people, they naturally become very heavy utilizers of welfare, even more if you are bringing them in legally.”

Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee revealed Thursday that spending on federal welfare programs reached about $1.03 trillion in 2011. To put that number in perspective, if those programs were to be converted into cash assistance for all American households in poverty in 2011, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, those households would each have received an average of $61,194.

USDA did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment.

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Caroline May