NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Immigrant Welfare Use Has Fallen

March 10, 1999

Legal immigrants and refugees are leaving welfare at a faster pace than other recipients, says a new study from the Urban Institute. The 1996 federal welfare reform law limited the availability of some federal means-tested benefits to legal immigrants.

  • Between 1994 and 1997, welfare use dropped 35 percent among noncitizens, compared with a 14 percent drop among citizens.
  • Despite the protections for refugees incorporated into welfare reform, refugees experienced a decline of 33 percent -- at least as steep as that of the noncitizen population as a whole.
  • There were similar disparities in the drop in Medicaid and food stamp use between citizens and noncitizens.
  • However, welfare use among elderly immigrants and naturalized citizens did not appear to change between 1994 and 1997.

Since there was no increase in immigrants' earnings or changes in naturalization procedures -- indicating the former welfare recipients did not get better jobs or become citizens -- the study's authors conclude that confused immigrants were giving up public benefits to which they were still entitled, possibly out of fear they would be deported.

Source: Michael Fix and Jeffrey S. Passel, "Trends in Noncitizens' and Citizens' Use of Public Benefits Following Welfare Reform: 1994-97," March 1999, Urban Institute, 2100 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037, (202) 833-7200; Richard Wolf, "Welfare Benefits," USA Today, March 9, 1999.


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