Energy & Environment

Food Stamp Nation goes international

Food Stamp Nation goes international
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)

“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,” the Daily Caller reported on Thursday.

This is not a new development.  The cross-border outreach program has existed since 2004.  What’s news is that Congress, specifically Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), is demanding information and documentation from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about the size and scope of the program, how much American taxpayer money it consumes, and its effect on illegal immigration.  Thus far, Sessions’ questions have not been answered.

Here’s how the program works, according to the United States Department of Agriculture website: “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.  Mexico will help disseminate this information through its embassy and network of approximately 50 consular offices.”  This ensures every Mexican emigrant will be fully trained in promptly accessing American welfare benefits when they cross the border.

Illegal aliens aren’t supposed to be eligible for food stamps, but Sessions is not sanguine about the integrity of the program, which has already seen plenty of fraud and abuse from legal citizens.  “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,” the Senator said, questioning the logic of “an immigration policy that would encourage immigrants who can’t successfully operate within this society.”

The protections against SNAP abuse by illegal aliens are paper-thin.  The federal government doesn’t even know how many illegal immigrants might have collected food stamp benefits.  State governments are not currently required to use the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database to verify the citizenship status of applicants.  (That’s the same database the state of Florida had to sue the federal government to gain access to, when they wanted to ensure illegal aliens weren’t voting.)

Sessions has advocated legislation to make use of the SAVE database mandatory, but at the moment, Food Stamp Nation can accept “documentation” of citizenship without making any attempt to validate it… or even settle for “the applicant’s attestation of legal status as a substitute for verification,” as Sessions delicately phrased it in his letter to Vilsack.  And even known illegal aliens are allowed to register their children for SNAP, which is an open invitation to abuse, since very little effort is made to monitor how food stamps are actually used.

The food stamp program is a lot bigger than it was in 2004.  The USDA reported about 23 million participants back then – already a substantial increase from 17 million in the year 2000.  It was up to 28 million by 2008, and then began a period of explosive growth that took the program past 46 million participants today.  Food Stamp Nation’s aggressive recruitment program, coupled with President Obama’s recessionary economy, appears to have paid off.

The cost of the food stamp program has ballooned accordingly, from $27 billion in 2004 to $78 billion by the end of 2011.  The Heritage Foundation estimated that about 3.9 percent of that funding is lost to “improper food stamp payments,” which would give us about $2.75 billion in fraud for 2011.  Among the more common methods of defrauding the system is collecting food stamp benefits for the deceased, which is quite inconsistent with the generally accepted nutritional requirements of the walking dead.  If the dead can collect SNAP benefits, it’s probably not that hard for living ineligible recipients to game the system.

The USDA has been under fire for using Spanish-language soap opera serials to recruit new food stamp dependents, a program the agency has indicated it will terminate.  Such efforts, including the USDA’s partnership with the Mexican government, only seem outrageous if the “goal” of the food stamp program is seen as reducing the number of people who use it.  But that’s now how dependency-fueled Big Government works.  Its programs are judged successful when they expand, and spend more money.  That’s the only way bureaucrats can demand perpetual funding increases.

Nanny-state programs are like sharks: they die if they don’t keep moving, and they’re always hungry.  From this perspective, shameless efforts to increase participation among carefully targeted constituencies are entirely logical.  You might as well ask the Terminator to feel guilty about running through the phone book and shooting everyone named “Sarah Connor.”

Concerns have been expressed that SNAP will grow to consume the entire Department of Agriculture budget (if I may use that term in reference to a government that stopped having “budgets” three years ago.)  For the Obama Administration, that’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity.  Dependency puts down markers against future fiscal restraint.  If the next Congress gets serious about spending reductions, and goes anywhere near the funding stream for Food Stamp Nation, it will be accused of wanting to starve poor people to death, just as ObamaCare was a down payment on a future in which limited-government advocates can be accused of wanting to murder hospital patients.  Do not for one moment imagine that the people who currently portray all budget cuts as reckless efforts to shut down police and fire departments will hesitate to make those arguments.

It’s curious that this Administration has been willing to work so closely with the Mexican government on expanding food stamp dependency in the United States, but couldn’t be bothered to notify Mexican authorities of a deadly gun-running program that killed over 300 of its citizens.

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