After a bracket-style competition, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) says $50,000 spent by the federal government helping deported Salvadorans start businesses was the “champion” of a contest on ill-spent federal dollars for 2015.
The program, a grant from the Inter-American Foundation to the non-profit Insituto Salvadorno Del Migrante, or Institute for Salvadoran Migrants, specifically targets illegal immigrants deported from the U.S. back to El Salvador. The money is used toward helping those deported to establish businesses in their home country.
According to a 2014 report from the Center for Immigration Studies, Salvadorans represent the largest group in an explosion of Central American migration that includes Hondurans and Guatemalans. Of the 2.7 million immigrants in this group, 1.6 million are estimated by the Department of Homeland Security to be undocumented.
In a report released by Paul in January, the senator openly questioned whether the money was going to criminals. The Institute, he said, provided his office with no criteria that the awards were limited to law-abiding citizens.
“Keep in mind that the assistance under this program is targeted to deportees, meaning that it’s possible they were sent home for reasons beyond simple immigration infractions,” Paul writes.
Only days before the release of the “bracket” results, March 17, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it was extraditing 29-year-old Jose Carlos Granado-Melgar. The Salvadoran immigrant was a suspected member of the MS-13 gang, and faces charges of a triple homicide and attempted murder in his native country.
The runner-up in Paul’s government waste bracket was the suspect $104 million in
Department of Housing and Urban Development
funds that were going to public housing tenants who were over the income requirements to qualify for that housing.
In a 2014 report, HUD's Office of the Inspector General said that, of the 15 housing authorities studied, none used income level as a justification for evicting someone from public housing.
Public housing is different from the section 8 vouchers program, with facilities built by HUD and rent charges on a sliding scale in accordance with income.
As a result of this study, the report found four particularly extreme cases in which residents were well above the income requirements. In New York City, it said, one family of four that had qualified for the program in 1988 had a combined household annual income in 2014 of nearly $500,000, but paid only $1,574 a month for the three-bedroom unit.
The report found that more 25,000 families in the program throughout the U.S. earned above the maximum income needed to qualify for public housing. Of that group, 17,761 had been over the income limit for more than one year.
Housing authorities argued in the report that it’s beneficial for their programs to keep tenants within the homes, even after their income goes above the amount needed to initially qualify. The rental income garnered from tenants, such as the example in New York City, represent a part of the housing authorities’ revenue to operate.
In recent years, cities have also sought to abandon high concentrations of low-income housing “projects,” such as Cabrini-Green in Chicago, which was largely demolished by 2011, in favor of mixed income housing. Leaving over-income families in the homes helps those developments to become mixed-income.
A spokesperson for the New York City Housing Authority told AMI Newswire that, since the report was released, the department was awaiting “further guidance from HUD on changing the rules for residing in public housing.”
In the meantime, housing authorities across the nation face a significant backlog. A 2013 investigation by The New York Times found that about 227,000 people are on waiting lists for housing that averages $463 a month. Fewer than 6,000 of the apartments become available annually, according to the article.
“Although it would be reasonable to expect that a minimum number of over-income families would reside in public housing at any time, HUD can significantly reduce the number of over-income families that reside in public housing,” HUD auditor David Kasperowicz wrote in his 2014 report.
Also on Paul’s list was a program from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad offering to bring up to 24 children from Pakistan to Huntsville, Alabama for a “Space Camp” - with each ticket worth an estimated $250,000 - and a $350,000 grant from the State Department to a for-profit TV Station in Afghanistan to support the development of a cricket league.
Calls and emails seeking comment to the Inter-American Foundation were not returned as of March 23.
Paul serves as chairman of the Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management Subcommittee, which regularly releases reports on what it believes to be prominent examples of wasteful government spending.