The ability to provide guitar lessons, a petting zoo and an organic garden to unaccompanied alien children does not gel with claims the Department of Health and Human Service made this summer that its resources had been stretched too thin to deal with the heavy influx of the minors, according to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.
The Iowa Republican addressed the issue in a letter sent to Health and Human Services Sec. Sylvia Burwell on Thursday.
In the letter, Grassley noted Burwell’s July 14 comments to the Senate Appropriations Committee in which she said HHS does not “have enough beds and we don’t have sufficient resources to continue to add beds.”
The recent influx of unaccompanied children had left the agency’s resources “stretched thin,” Burwell said, while calling for more federal funding.
But in his letter, Grassley drew attention to the terms of a contract between HHS and one of its longtime partner organizations, Southwest Key Programs.
In one April grant proposal, Southwest Key offered to provide its services at a “daily rate” of $316 per child at its facility in El Cajon, Cali.
Besides basic care, Southwest Key also promised to provide a number of amenities.
“We have an organic orchard of orange, lemon, and grapefruit trees. As well as an Organic (sic) garden that supplements our kitchen with a wide variety of organic vegetables throughout the year,” read the grant documents.
“We have a small petting farm with ducks, chickens, and miniature ponies. We have also established an Acuaponics system where we are cultivating over 1000 Tilapia,” Southwest Key wrote in the proposal, while also promoting the facility as “an architectural compliment to San Diego’s early ‘Spanish Colonial’ history.”
HHS also gave Southwest Key a grant to provide guitar lessons on the grounds that they constituted vocational training.
Grassley noted in his letter that in 2014 Southwest Key has received $122 million in contracts from HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, the sub-agency in charge of caring for unaccompanied children. And over the past six years, Southwest Key has received $368 million in federal contracts.
“It’s disturbing that HHS is funding such expensive facilities despite claiming to be unable to meet basic needs for UACs (Unaccompanied Alien Children),” Grassley wrote.
The overspending is part of a pattern, according to Grassley, who noted in a press release that Burwell has previously testified that HHS spends betwen $250 and $1,000 per day to provide care to each UAC.
In a July 17, 2014, letter to Burwell, Grassley raised questions over a $50 million contract proposal with another federal contractor – the Texas-based BCFS – to house 600 illegal immigrants. That worked out to a cost of $83,000 per bed, Grassley wrote in that letter. (RELATED: Group Given Nearly $300 Million To House Illegal Immigrants)
In the letter, Grassley sought to find out the “daily rate” paid by HHS to Southwest Key. Questioning whether HHS had negotiated its contracts with Southwest Key, Grassley asked Burwell to turn over evidence that it had.