During the Senate Budget Committee’s Thursday markup of the Senate budget resolution, Democrats prevented an effort to block funds for the Agriculture Department’s “partnership” with the Mexican government, which is aimed at promoting nutrition assistance programs among Mexican Americans, Mexican nationals and migrant communities in America.
In a party-line 12 to 10 vote, the Democrats on the committee rejected a proposal to prevent funding for such endeavors from ranking member Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, who has spoken out against the program in recent months.
“Contrary to sound policy, the United States is spending money advertising food stamp benefits in foreign consulates,” Session’s staff said in a Thursday evening press release. “This amendment would prohibit any funds from being spent on this controversial promotion campaign.”
Until recently, the USDA’s partnership was relatively unknown, with only a few mentions of it in public agency materials.
“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,” the USDA explains in a brief paragraph on its “Reaching Low-Income Hispanics With Nutrition Assistance” Web page. “Mexico will help disseminate this information through its embassy and network of approximately 50 consular offices.”
Last fall, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack defended the program in a letter to Sessions, explaining that the partnership with the foreign government was one of many efforts to reduce hunger in America.
“The Mexico-U.S. Partnership for Nutrition Assistance Initiative is just one of a wide range of USDA partnership activities intended to promote awareness of nutrition assistance among those who need benefits and meet all program requirements under current law,” Vilsack wrote to Sessions.
In that letter, Vilack revealed that USDA personnel had met with Mexican government officials to promote nutrition initiatives more than 150 times since the program’s inception in 2004, under the Bush administration.