“In order to combat welfare fraud in Pennsylvania and ensure that state government is efficiently providing assistance to its most vulnerable citizens, we must ensure public benefits are going to those who are truly deserving of the assistance,” Stefano said. “Pennsylvania citizens, who are struggling to make ends meet, should not have their hard-earned dollars go towards benefits for illegal immigrants.”
Federal law prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving state or local public benefits. However, Stefano said Pennsylvania is simply too lenient in enforcing the federal provisions.
“The Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR) estimates the current local annual costs of illegal immigration amount to about $36 billion nationwide,” Stefano said. “In Pennsylvania, which has more than 100,000 illegal immigrants, the current estimated cost is $285 million. That cost is expected to grow to $812 million by the year 2020.”
Last month, Pennsylvania agreed to pay the federal government $48.8 million to settle claims that it paid non-emergency Medicaid, family assistance and food stamp benefits to immigrants who did not qualify for them.
Stefano’s bill, Senate Bill 9, would require anyone receiving public benefits in the Commonwealth to provide identification proving they are legal residents. In addition, individuals would be required to sign an affidavit stating they are a United States citizen, or an immigrant lawfully residing in this country.
Any illegal immigrant who falsely claims they are residing in the country legally, in order to obtain public benefits, will have committed a second degree misdemeanor and be subject to arrest.
Stefano noted that the legislation would provide compassionate exceptions to its tough restrictions. Senate Bill 9 would only apply to residents 18 and older and would exempt seniors who are Medicare eligible as well as disabled Pennsylvanians who are receiving SSI or SSDI. The bill would also allow every person in Pennsylvania access to emergency medical care, necessary immunizations and disaster relief..
“Illegal immigration creates unfair competition for jobs with American workers and puts a major strain on services that are intended for hard-working Pennsylvania residents,” Stefano said. “We should do all we can to ensure that our tax dollars are used to fund services for state residents, not those entering this country illegally.”
According to a 2014 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, the number of illegal immigrants living in Pennsylvania grew from 140,000 to 170,000 between 2009 and 2012.
Senate Bill 9 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.