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Legal loophole allows illegal immigrant to collect welfare

Updated: Tuesday, November 19 2013, 09:33 PM EST
Reported by: Chris Papst

HARRISBURG -- In Pennsylvania, it is illegal for illegal aliens to collect welfare.  But CBS 21 found a loophole in the system that allows undocumented immigrants to collect your tax dollars legally. 

What’s more, during this investigation, we learned that the state can’t stop them. 

Earlier this month, CBS 21 interviewed a whistleblower - a former case worker at the Department of Public Welfare. For five years, it was her job to issue benefits based on eligibility.

And for five years, she issued thousands of tax dollars to illegal alien households.  “They walk into a government office and say, ‘Give me my welfare,’” she said.  “They came to me all the time.”

In Pennsylvania, a Social Security number is required to collect most welfare – something illegal immigrants don’t have.

But their children, if born in America, do.  And once that first child is born, the household becomes eligible for the same benefits, under the same requirements, as if the parents were legal citizens.  

The more kids they have, the more assistance they get. The DPW whistleblower said illegal immigrants know this when they come to Pennsylvania.

It works like this: if an eligible Lancaster County household headed by an undocumented immigrant has one child, the family gets $215 in cash assistance and $189 a month in food assistance.

For each additional child, the numbers are adjusted.  So if a family has five children, all of whom are citizens, the household would get $1,357 a month just in cash and food.  The children would also be eligible for medical assistance.  

Census data from 2010 shows  that 59 percent of Pennsylvania households, headed by an illegal resident, receive welfare, the fifth-highest percentage of any state. 

But CBS 21 couldn’t find a report to translate this loophole into dollars.  We went to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale to see if the Commonwealth could do an audit.

"It would be very challenging for us because that would mean we would have to go to every county assistance agency,” said DePasquale. “If that's happening here, we can't be the only state in the country confronting that.”

The AG is correct. This does happen in other states. In fact, it happens in every state. Federal law dictates that County Assistance Offices are “non-reporting” agencies. Meaning that if a known illegal immigrant walks into a government welfare building, they are not reported to authorities.    

"You can get fired for that,” the whistleblower said in reference to reporting illegal immigrants. “That is what they tell you."

“We don’t need welfare workers and county agencies becoming immigration agents. That’s not their job,” Andy Hoover of the ACLU said.

He added that this issue is about supporting kids, not the legal status of immigrants. He fears that if case workers report illegal immigrants it will create a culture of fear and parents won’t seek help for their children.   

“If we create a situation where someone could be reported by agencies, then we create a permanent underclass of people many of whom are legal citizens,” Hoover said.

Rep. Bryan Cutler of Lancaster County said this is about principle.  Welfare workers, as government employees, should report illegals who apply for assistance because they’re breaking the law.

“I think that, and wish, the federal government could give us more autonomy so we could better manage those resources and make sure we got those resources to people who best need it.  And in this case, to the taxpayers who paid for it,” Cutler said. 

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates there are 160,000 illegal immigrants living in Pennsylvania.  There are pieces of legislation currently moving through the legislature concerning illegal immigrants collecting welfare.

This is the fourth installment in a series about welfare fraud. The previous stories can be found by following the links below:

Whistleblower accuses Department of Public Welfare of fraud

Lotto winners bilk the system by continuing to collect welfare after winning

Welfare loophole allows people to collect welfare while living with wealthy relatives

Legal loophole allows illegal immigrant to collect welfare

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