Stephen Wall, Staff Writer
Posted: 01/18/2010 05:11:43 PM PST
San Bernardino County spent nearly $64 million in state and federal money last year to provide welfare benefits to the American-born children of illegal immigrants.
Illegal immigrants aren’t entitled to welfare. But their citizen children are.
Nationwide, one in three immigrant-headed households uses at least one major welfare program, compared with 19 percent of citizen households, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that advocates immigration reduction.
In California, 192,660 citizen children are getting welfare checks passed through their illegal immigrant parents. That costs $546 million a year in state, federal and county funds, officials say.
Some lawmakers say it’s an expense California can’t afford as the state struggles to close a nearly $20 billion budget gap.
“We should never be giving benefits to people in this country illegally,” said state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga.
County officials provided data from August 2009 to show the funding and number of American-born children of illegal immigrants receiving aid in the CalWORKs and food stamp programs.
Information for all of 2009 was not easily retrievable, officials said, but the August figures are an accurate reflection of a monthly total during the year.
The county’s Transitional Assistance Department runs the CalWORKs program, which provides cash aid and services to needy families, as well as the food stamp program.
The maximum CalWORKs grant for a family of three in the county is $661 per month. The maximum amount of food stamp assistance that a family of three can get is $526 a month.
The American-born children of illegal immigrants made up 15.5 percent of the CalWORKs caseload and 6.5 percent of the food stamp caseload in the county last year.
About 15,000 citizen children of illegal immigrants in the county received either CalWORKs or food stamps in a typical month last year. More than 11,000 used both programs in an average month in 2009, according to county data.
In August, the county spent nearly $3.3 million for CalWORKs and about $2 million for food stamps for the American-born children of illegal immigrants. The two programs totaled nearly $64 million when multiplied over 12 months.
The county contributes roughly $1.7 million a year of its own funds to run the programs, officials say.
“This is a huge burden on our state,” said Assemblyman Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, whose district includes Victorville and northwestern San Bernardino County. “Obviously, these kids are U.S. citizens and that’s fine. But when you look at it, these parents should have never been here in the first place.”
The welfare expenses don’t count pregnancy-related services that were provided last year to about 2,350 illegal immigrant women in the county through Medi-Cal, a health-care program for low-income California residents.
The welfare costs also don’t include the roughly $11 billion the state spends annually for education, unreimbursed health care and incarceration of illegal immigrant criminals, said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform, a Washington D.C.-based group that favors strict immigration limits.
“The American people are fed up with illegal aliens depleting our tax dollars by overrunning our schools, our hospitals and our welfare system,” said Raymond Herrera, founder and president of We The People California’s Crusader, a Claremont-based anti-illegal immigration group.
This month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a nearly 16 percent grant reduction to CalWORKs caseloads, a move that could save the state almost $590 million.
Dutton said the CalWORKs program has failed.
“I don’t think it’s done a good job,” he said. “People are on it too long. They’ve become dependent. If the program doesn’t work, you need to get rid of it and try something different.”
There is a five-year time limit for adults receiving CalWORKs. But children are still entitled to their share of benefits after their parents are cut off.
There is no time limit for the food stamp program.
The county did not have data on the average length of time an illegal immigrant parent with an American-born child receives CalWORKs or food stamps.
Supporters of the CalWORKs program say the proposed cuts would have devastating consequences.
“What they’re attempting to do is cripple the future prosperity of our community by denying legal benefits to these American-born children,” said Gil Navarro, a member of the San Bernardino County board of education.
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