Posted: Feb 16, 2012 3:38 PM ESTUpdated: Feb 16, 2012 11:21 PM EST

An NBC2 Investigation uncovers the number of non-Americans getting public assistance now outpaces the number of U.S. citizens getting assistance. Investigator Andy Pierrotti crunched the numbers and explains what he found.

With her list and radio in hand, Desiree Gutierrez makes sure all 101 rooms are ready for guests at the Naples Double Tree Hotel. 

Gutierrez is a Cuban refugee, in this country legally, but not a citizen.

"I left Cuba for the same reasons all Cubans leave the country; looking for freedom, and in my case because I am a woman, where women were not very valued" says Gutierrez. 

To help get on her feet, she signed up for food stamps.

Desiree: It was a way to resolve all of my basic needs that I had.
NBC: How long were you on it?
Desiree: Six months.
NBC2: And you haven't been on it since?
Desiree: No.

We found the sheer number of refugees getting assistance has grown 200%, outpacing the number of U.S. Born Florida recipients receiving the same assistance. 

Raw numbers: $13 million went to refugees in 2008. It's now $52 million dollars, or about a 292 percent increase.

The federal government provides more money to Florida than any other state to help non-citizens.

Cubans make up 80 percent of all Florida refugees. About 27,000 are granted political asylum every year. 

Hiram Ruiz tries to get each one a job. He's the refugee director for the state's Department of Children and Family Services.

"The goal of our program, which is 100 percent federally funded, is to try to help refugees become self-sufficient as soon as possible," said Ruiz.

"It's affecting everything from jobs and of course the social climate, the political climate," says Jay Johnson, editor of the Florida Citizen, an online news and opinion website.

He writes about the economic impact of refugees on Florida. "I can't get the benefits, but they can just get off the water and get the benefits. That's not fair," said Johnson.

Not fair to him, but U.S. Senator Bill Nelson says it's not about to change either. "They are entitled to stay here and until that law is changed, and I don't see that's politically possible anytime soon. That is the law," said Nelson.

Gutierrez is on her way to becoming a u-s citizen.

She and her staff of 14 refugees say they're grateful for the taxpayer funded assistance that helped them.

"Being grateful is contributing back; is trying to be independent and being successful which is why we came here," she said. 

The state doesn't keep track of refugees who eventually become citizens.
In addition to food stamps, DCF also provides temporary cash assistance to refugees. Since 2001, that public assistance has totaled more than $49 million dollars.