Food stamps don't count as public assistance?
FrontPage Magazine has acquired evidence that suggests that the Obama administration is actively promoting a little-known regulation first created by the Clinton administration. In so doing, the Obama administration is actively recruiting immigrants and encouraging them to sign up for things like food stamps, reminding that under this obscure regulation they suffer no marks against them in any future immigration proceeding if they receive food stamps and other non-cash benefits.
According to a recent US Department of Agriculture (USDA) publication geared toward immigrants called "Guidance on Non-Citizen Eligibility Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program," the USDA emphasized that the rules on receiving food stamps and being approved for all sorts of immigration-related procedures are not what many may think they are.
There is a perception that participating in SNAP could affect immigration status or hurt a non-citizen’s chances of becoming an American citizen, but this is not true. It is important for non-citizens to know they will not be deported, denied entry to the country, or denied permanent status because they apply for or receive SNAP benefits.
The Daily Caller recently reported that USDA officials met with officials from the Mexican government on a number of occasions to discuss encouraging more use of SNAP and welfare-type programs by immigrants from Mexico into the US.
“Since the partnership began, Vilsack wrote, USDA personnel have met at least 151 times with officials from the Mexican government ‘to discuss nutrition assistance programs as well as to provide program updates.’ Those instances included 91 meetings with embassy and consulate staff in 25 U.S. cities; 29 health fairs in 19 U.S. cities; and 31 roundtable discussions, conferences and forums in 20 U.S. cities,” read part of the story.
Both revelations together suggest the Obama administration is actively encouraging, promoting, and recruiting immigrants to take advantage of public non-cash benefits by reminding them repeatedly that they face no punishment for applying for non-cash benefits, said Jessica Vaughan, a policy analyst with the Center for Immigration Studies.
The entire brouhaha revolves around an obscure regulation first instituted by immigration authorities in the Clinton administration. The controversy has received added attention since a group of four Republican senators from the Senate Budget Committee demanded answers, as part of their oversight duties, in a letter in August 2012. The letter came after a staffer noticed that this regulation was referenced in the Question-and-Answer section of the US Citizen and Immigration Services' (USCIS) website under the “public charge” section. A “public charge” is an individual that is deemed to be highly likely to wind up taking public funds.
In 1999, the Clinton administration changed the definition of public charge by bureaucratic fiat. In a white paper published in 2011 also for the Center for Immigration Studies, James Edwards Jr. explained how the Clinton administration accomplished this. With a new regulation, the Clinton administration first introduced the idea of food stamps no longer necessarily meaning that a person would be considered a “public charge.” (According to his bio, James R. Edwards, Jr., Ph.D., is an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute and teaches government in the Claremont McKenna College Washington Semester Program.) He wrote:
The Clinton administration in 1999 proposed its own definition of "public charge" by regulation. Its definition allows immigrants broad usage of public assistance. The INS rule defines "public charge" as an alien who has become or likely will become "primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either: (i) the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or (ii) institutionalization for long-term care at government expense."
The INS rule lists welfare programs counted under the rule as cash assistance for income maintenance or long-term institutionalization: Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (formerly AFDC), state and local cash assistance programs helping recipients maintain income (known as "general assistance"), and programs that support institutionalized long-term care. The INS also lists a number of non-cash benefit programs that it does not count in a public charge determination (see Table 3). These include Medicaid and other public health benefits, housing assistance, and child care services. Even receipt of cash assistance does not automatically render an alien a public charge, but must be considered in one's "totality of circumstances."
In other words, Clinton carefully changed the definition of “public charge” to someone needing public monetary assistance. This left those who would receive "non-monetary" assistance, like food stamps, to still apply for immigration benefits.
At the time Clinton imposed this regulation, little was made of it. In fact, it took about thirteen years for almost anyone to notice. In August 2012, four Republican members of the Senate Budget Committee -- Jeff Sessions, Charles Grassley, Pat Roberts, and Orrin Hatch -- were concerned by an answer to the Q-and-A section of the USCIS website. In particular, the four were concerned about the numerous programs listed in answer to the question, “What publicly funded benefits may not be considered for public charge purposes?”
The answer included programs like food stamps. The answer indicated that immigrants with a high probability of becoming the recipients of such programs as food stamps were not necessarily going to be denied a Visa.
Since then, as FrontPage previously reported, the four senators have tried, with no luck, to get answers from both the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Both State and DHS have oversight over Visa applications.
The answer appears to be this little-known regulation first instituted under President Clinton.
The Obama administration has been interpreting it the same way as it was originally written. In fact, Christopher Bentley, a spokesperson for USCIS, told FrontPage Magazine that USCIS changed nothing during the Obama administration in their internal policy regarding the definition of public charge.
“We haven’t made nor are we aware of any changes to our Public Charge materials.”
During the course of investigating this story, FrontPage Magazine also confirmed that an internal State Department manual also treats food stamp and other such welfare programs as not necessarily impacting public charge considerations. In that manual, the new Clinton definition of non-cash payments was specifically cited.
There are many forms of U.S. Government assistance that an alien may have accepted in the past, or that you may reasonably believe an alien might receive after admission to the United States, that are of a non-cash and/or supplemental nature and would not create an inadmissibility.
All of it is, in fact, right in line with the way that the Clinton administration regulations were written. The Clinton regulation exempted all alleged "non-cash" benefits from the definition of public charge, which would include programs like food stamps.
Jessica Vaughan, a policy analyst also with CIS, said that where the Obama administration differs from prior administrations is in its promotion of this rule. The Bush administration was never accused of meeting with Mexican officials to promote food stamps for their citizens that were likely to come to the USA. Nor did the Bush administration draw attention to the food stamp rule, said Vaughan.
“There’s no way that the Bush administration would produce a USDA piece highlighting to immigrants that they can get on the public dole and still get immigration approval.”
That may be one reason that all of this is coming out now, said Vaughan.
Far from being an obscure bureaucratic issue, the above policy and culture of dependency promoted by the Obama administration have a very real impact on ordinary Americans. Studies have shown that close to 60% of immigrant households end up using government programs. Yet the "public charge" regulation was implemented to ensure that as few immigrants as possible become dependent on public assistance. Something has gone terribly wrong. It is quite clear the dual efforts of the Clinton and Obama administrations, through their bureaucratic tyranny, have played a substantial role in undermining this protection for American taxpayers.
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