Revising food-stamp rules affecting undocumented immigrants in Utah may have saved the federal government more than $2 million, an analysis by the state Department of Workforce Services (DWS) shows.
Between July and October, 2,724 households with undocumented immigrants lost benefits; 788 of those households saw a decline in financial assistance. That equals an estimated $2.1 million in cost savings, according to the analysis.
Food stamps, which help low-income families buy food each month, are available to all eligible U.S. citizens based on household income and family size.
A blended household with U.S.-born children and undocumented parents could potentially still qualify if its income was low enough. Food stamp benefits are paid by the federal government.
Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, said he was happy with the savings, even if it was not in state dollars.
"It's saving our children from additional debt," said the legislator, who is married to a legal immigrant from the Ukraine. "It also goes to show there are costs associated with illegal immigrants."
In July, Utah began to count all income of household members when determining eligibility for food stamps. In the past, only a portion of undocumented immigrants' income was counted, due to the limitations of an old computer system. The result was that the income of a family with undocumented members might appear to be lower than a similar family of all native Utahns, making the newcomers eligible for food stamps while the native Utahns were not.
Statewide, 9.1 percent of all households receiving food stamps include undocumented members, according to DWS. In Salt Lake County, 11.1 percent of households on food stamps include undocumented members. The highest numbers are in Summit County where nearly 30 percent of households on food stamps include undocumented residents. Those numbers have not significantly differed since the rules changed.
Of the thousands of families who lost benefits many of whom are Latino some are seeking help at free food pantries such as Hildegarde's Pantry at St. Mark's Cathedral in Salt Lake City. During the recession, families lost jobs and food stamps, and moved in with uncles and cousins to try to save money, said Lydia Herrera, the pantry director.
"I have lots of families who don't receive any more food stamps," said Herrera, who noted the pantry is extremely low on canned meat such as tuna and chicken. "They are not getting by."
Herrod said he hated to see any family go hungry, "but I don't think it's fair to the taxpayers to bear that burden especially if they're in the country illegally."
"I believe in immigration, but I believe those individuals who come should strive to be self-sufficient," he said.
Do you qualify for food stamps?
O Visit utahhelps.utah.gov to apply for help. For more information on food stamps or where to get free food, call 211.