When a wave of unaccompanied illegal minors came across the U.S. southern border with Mexico over the summer, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell argued in front of Congress that her Department needed more taxpayer funding to handle the crisis due to a lack of beds and "sufficient resources to add beds" to existing government shelter facilities.
But according to a federal HHS grant detailed in a letter sent to Burwell from Republican Senator Chuck Grassley Thursday, an enormous amount of taxpayer money was used to house a number of unaccompanied illegal minors at a California resort that included guitar lessons, a petting farm, sunset views and many other amenities.
"On August 22, 2014, I wrote to your Department regarding concerns related to a Texas-based non-profit; Southwest Key Programs. Southwest Key has been the recipient of $368 million in government grants in the past six years and over $122 million alone from the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement in 2014," Grassley wrote. "The documents provided in response to my letter raise serious concerns regarding the Department and Southwest Key’s stewardship of taxpayer dollars. For example, on April 23, 2014, Southwest Key proposed to charge the government a “daily rate” of $316 to house unaccompanied alien children in a facility in El Cajon, California. There is no further detail as to whether this request was accepted. However, according to documents, HHS did approve a grant for Southwest Key to fund the El Cajon facility."
According to the information provided by Grassley, it can cost taxpayers up to $1000 per day to house each individual unaccompanied minor at these kinds of facilities. The El Cajon facility used by HHS included the following amenities:
“An organic orchard of orange, lemon, and grapefruit trees. As well as an Organic (sic) garden that supplements our kitchen with a wide variety of organic vegetables throughout the year. We have a small petting farm with ducks, chickens, and miniature ponies. We have also established an Acuaponics system where we are cultivating over 1000 Tilapia.”
Burwell has been asked to answer a series of questions about the use of taxpayer money for these purposes, especially after making claims Health and Human Services is underfunded.
"It is disturbing that HHS is funding such expensive facilities despite claiming to be unable to meet basic needs for UACs," Grassley wrote.