CBPP: Immigrants' Use of Public Benefits Has
Declined Since 1996;
CIS Report Exploits Loose Definitions to Paint
- March 26 - A recent Center for Immigration Studies report claims
that, despite restrictions Congress placed on legal immigrants'
eligibility for certain public benefit programs in 1996, "welfare
use rates for immigrants and natives are essentially back to where
they were in 1996 when welfare reform was passed." This claim
is striking, but misleading. A more careful, forthcoming analysis
conducted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, as well
as a number of other pieces of research conducted by scholars
at the Urban Institute and other research institutions, shows
that the share of noncitizens participating in each of the major
means-tested federal programs - Medicaid, Food Stamps, TANF, and
SSI - has declined significantly since 1996.
The CIS report,
which examines participation trends among what it calls "immigrant
households," similarly finds that receipt of TANF, SSI, and food
stamps by these households declined substantially between 1996
and 2001. Nevertheless, because it finds a modest increase in
the share of such households with at least one member who receives
Medicaid or health insurance provided through the State Children's
Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), CIS asserts that the share of
immigrant households using "at least one major welfare program"
has not declined since 1996.
CIS fails to
mention, however, that this modest increase in Medicaid participation
by so-called "immigrant" households is entirely due to an increase
in the number of U.S.-citizen children participating in Medicaid
or the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) who live
in households that also contain immigrants. The 1996 welfare law
maintained Medicaid coverage for these children since they are
citizens of the United States. As a result, data showing that
participation by U.S.-citizen children in Medicaid or SCHIP rose
modestly says little about the impact of the restrictions the
law placed on noncitizens' eligibility for public benefits.
"CIS uses a
methodology that obscures the substantial declines in participation
by noncitizens in all of the major benefit programs, including
Medicaid, that have occurred since 1996. As a result, the report
paints a misleading picture of the impact of these restrictions,"
said Leighton Ku, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy
Trends in participation
by non-citizen children and non-citizen adults provide a more
accurate yardstick by which to measure the impact on the 1996
restrictions. New analysis of Census data (the same database used
by CIS) shows that among both of these groups, Medicaid participation
declined between 1997 and 2001, a fact CIS fails to mention in
its report. For example, the share of noncitizen children of low-income
parents participating in Medicaid or SCHIP fell from 28.6 percent
in 1996 to 24.8 percent in 2001; during the same time period,
the share of U.S.-citizen children participating in these programs
increased from 42.8 percent to 47.6 percent. (The increase in
coverage for citizen children is primarily due to the creation
of the SCHIP program by Congress in 1997 and subsequent actions
by all states to expand coverage for children.) As a result, by
2001, noncitizen children were nearly half as likely to participate
in Medicaid or SCHIP as citizen children living in households
with similar income levels.
"The 1996 welfare
law substantially reduced the receipt of Medicaid, food stamps,
TANF and SSI by noncitizens who were lawfully admitted to the
United States. As a result, it led to increased levels of hardship
- such as being uninsured or running out of food - among many
low-income legal immigrants. Even CIS acknowledges that it is
'unfair' to restrict public benefits for noncitizens who, after
all, pay taxes, serve in the military and have the same social
obligations as U.S. citizens. The 1996 welfare law shows that
it is possible to reduce public benefit use by non-citizens who
are lawfully admitted to the United States; it is also the case,
however, that these reductions have led to increased hardships
for many of these Americans, who, of course, are no more immune
to crises such as unemployment and economic insecurity than other
American families," Ku said.
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