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Latino Children Shouldn't Be a Political Piñata

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By Liany Elba Arroyo, Associate Director, Education and Children's Policy Project, NCLR

Some members of Congress are up to no good again. Over and over in pretty much every debate this year, the House of Representatives or the Senate has attempted to deny Latino children access to services that they need in order to pay for other things like tax cuts for millionaires. This time it's Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions's turn at the piñata.

This week or next, the Senate is expected to vote on the "Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012," commonly referred to as the Farm Bill. The proposed bill cuts $4.5 billion over ten years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), which means that nearly 500,000 households will see their benefits reduced by an average of $90 per month. These cuts are already devastating enough for the thousands of families who rely on the program to put food on the table, but some senators feel that the cuts do not go far enough.

Senator Sessions is proposing an amendment that will hurt at least 4.5 million Latino children. The amendment requires that every person in a household show proof of citizenship before anyone in the home applies for SNAP. While this may appear to be a fair solution to some, the amendment is not nearly as reasonable as it seems.

Many U.S. citizens don't have official proof of their citizenship readily available. According to Peter Orszag, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, "virtually all of those who have been unable to provide the required documentation are U.S. citizens." For example, many are unable to afford appropriate identification or, in the case of many elderly Black Americans, were denied a birth certificate because of their race. In some places it can take anywhere from three to eight months to obtain an original birth certificate from local county officials, and it can cost up to $45 for a certificate or $100 for a passport, prices that are unaffordable for most low-income families who need assistance from SNAP. For today's multigenerational families, one household member not having proper identification means no one in the family is able to access SNAP.

And for Latinos in mixed-status families, children who are U.S. citizens will be denied access to a benefit for which they are eligible because one parent might be undocumented or a legal permanent resident not yet eligible for benefits. Given that over half of Hispanic children have at least one immigrant parent, this amendment will inordinately affect Hispanic children--who, by the way, are already likely to be eligible but unenrolled in the program. We should be investing in strategies that increase Latino kids' participation in SNAP, not stripping away their access.

Senator Sessions has it all wrong. Punishing U.S. citizen Latino children as a way to punish their parents is wrong--it is morally wrong, it is ethically wrong, and any person with half a heart can see that it makes no sense to add millions more kids to the already 16 million children who are at risk of hunger in this country. Kids who are at risk of hunger are more likely to be in poor health, have developmental and behavioral problems, and are five times more likely to attempt suicide. At a time when we should be investing in these children because they will be our future workers and leaders, Senator Sessions and his colleagues are showing the nation and the Hispanic community just how much they care about our younger generations by doing the exact opposite.

This post was originally posted on the NCLR Blog.