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Immigrants and Welfare

Immigrants and Welfare: The Impact of Welfare Reform on America's Newcomers

Michael E. Fix Editor
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 244
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  • Book Info
    Immigrants and Welfare
    Book Description:

    The lore of the immigrant who comes to the United States to take advantage of our welfare system has a long history in America’s collective mythology, but it has little basis in fact. The so-called problem of immigrants on the dole was nonetheless a major concern of the 1996 welfare reform law, the impact of which is still playing out today. While legal immigrants continue to pay taxes and are eligible for the draft, welfare reform has severely limited their access to government supports in times of crisis. Edited by Michael Fix, Immigrants and Welfare rigorously assesses the welfare reform law, questions whether its immigrant provisions were ever really necessary, and examines its impact on legal immigrants’ ability to integrate into American society. Immigrants and Welfare draws on fields from demography and law to developmental psychology. The first part of the volume probes the politics behind the welfare reform law, its legal underpinnings, and what it may mean for integration policy. Contributor Ron Haskins makes a case for welfare reform’s ultimate success but cautions that excluding noncitizen children (future workers) from benefits today will inevitably have serious repercussions for the American economy down the road. Michael Wishnie describes the implications of the law for equal protection of immigrants under the U.S. Constitution. The second part of the book focuses on empirical research regarding immigrants’ propensity to use benefits before the law passed, and immigrants’ use and hardship levels afterwards. Jennifer Van Hook and Frank Bean analyze immigrants’ benefit use before the law was passed in order to address the contested sociological theories that immigrants are inclined to welfare use and that it slows their assimilation. Randy Capps, Michael Fix, and Everett Henderson track trends before and after welfare reform in legal immigrants’ use of the major federal benefit programs affected by the law. Leighton Ku looks specifically at trends in food stamps and Medicaid use among noncitizen children and adults and documents the declining health insurance coverage of noncitizen parents and children. Finally, Ariel Kalil and Danielle Crosby use longitudinal data from Chicago to examine the health of children in immigrant families that left welfare. Even though few states took the federal government’s invitation with the 1996 welfare reform law to completely freeze legal immigrants out of the social safety net, many of the law’s most far-reaching provisions remain in place and have significant implications for immigrants. Immigrants and Welfare takes a balanced look at the politics and history of immigrant access to safety-net supports and the ongoing impacts of welfare.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-622-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Economics, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Michael E. Fix
  4. About the Authors
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Chapter 1 Immigrants and Welfare: Overview
    (pp. 1-36)
    Michael E. Fix, Randy Capps and Neeraj Kaushal

    On August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the landmark Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) that with much fanfare eliminated welfare as an entitlement, imposed time limits on public assistance, mandated that welfare beneficiaries work, and substantially increased state authority in administering welfare programs (Public Law 104-193).

    But the 1996 law introduced another important but far less broadly noted policy change: it restricted legal immigrants’ access to cash-transfer programs such as welfare as well as to other social safety net programs such as food stamps and health insurance. It gave states new powers to deny benefits to...


    • Chapter 2 Limiting Welfare Benefits for Noncitizens: Emergence of Compromises
      (pp. 39-68)
      Ron Haskins

      The 1996 welfare reform law—the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act—changed almost every aspect of noncitizen eligibility for welfare benefits, especially by limiting their access to benefits. My goal in this chapter is to review the reform policies and their origins, to consider the arguments for and against the reforms, and to examine their impacts on receipt of welfare by noncitizens as well as several associated issues. By way of full disclosure, I worked with other congressional staffers from the Ways and Means and Judiciary Committees in the House to draft the original and most subsequent versions...

    • Chapter 3 Welfare Reform after a Decade: Integration, Exclusion, and Immigration Federalism
      (pp. 69-90)
      Michael J. Wishnie

      The alienage restrictions of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) raised one principal constitutional question: does a state’s choice to deny lawful permanent residents (LPRs) the same welfare benefits it provides to citizens, where Congress has authorized but not required such discrimination, violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment? Ten years after enactment of PRWORA, the question remains largely unanswered by the courts. This is because, to the relief of millions of indigent immigrant families, and to the surprise of many prognosticators, few states have accepted the federal invitation to discriminate against LPRs....


    • Chapter 4 Immigrant Welfare Receipt: Implications for Immigrant Settlement and Integration
      (pp. 93-122)
      Jennifer Van Hook and Frank D. Bean

      The reception that newcomers face in host societies shapes the nature and degree of immigrant incorporation (Bloemraad 2006; Portes and Rumbaut 2001). Recent research, for example, has found that more favorable and welcoming social contexts increase the probability of naturalization (Van Hook, Brown, and Bean 2006). Such findings imply that providing assistance to immigrants, in whatever form, might foster immigrant economic integration, especially among the disproportionately large number of immigrants with scant education who have come to the United States over the past three decades, primarily to work. Of course, the United States has not traditionally provided settlement assistance to...

    • Chapter 5 Trends in Immigrants’ Use of Public Assistance after Welfare Reform
      (pp. 123-152)
      Randy Capps, Michael E. Fix and Everett Henderson

      The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) significantly changed the eligibility of legal immigrants for means-tested federal public assistance (Public Law 104-193). Twelve years after the law was enacted, ample evidence shows that the use of these assistance programs has declined markedly among low-income families, including legal immigrants. But the trends in legal immigrant use patterns have varied across the five federal assistance programs we consider in this chapter: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the Food Stamp Program (FSP), Medicaid, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

      As earlier chapters...

    • Chapter 6 Changes in Immigrants’ Use of Medicaid and Food Stamps: The Role of Eligibility and Other Factors
      (pp. 153-192)
      Leighton Ku

      Congress restricted the eligibility of legal immigrants for means-tested benefits by passing two laws in 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). These changes were designed to limit the use of means-tested federal benefits by immigrants, to shift responsibility for immigrants’ needs to their sponsors or to the states and to achieve federal cost savings (Fix and Passel 2002). In so doing, Congress altered the previous social contract, under which immigrants who were legally admitted as lawful permanent residents (LPRs)—and who were subject to civic responsibilities...

    • Chapter 7 Welfare-Leaving and Child Health and Behavior in Immigrant and Native Families
      (pp. 193-228)
      Ariel Kalil and Danielle A. Crosby

      Children of immigrants are the fastest-growing segment of the child population. Although immigrants make up less than 13 percent of the total population, their children make up 22 percent of the total child population and 30 percent of the low-income child population in the United States.¹ Research indicating disparate access to resources and opportunities for immigrant families raises concerns about the health, economic well-being, and social and cognitive development of this significant segment of the child population. Children of immigrants are more likely than their native counterparts to be poor and to experience material hardships such as crowded housing conditions...

  8. Index
    (pp. 229-234)