Immigrants, Welfare Reform, and the U.S. Safety Net
55 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2011 Last revised: 11 Apr 2021
Date Written: December 2011
Beginning with the 1996 federal welfare reform law many of the central safety net programs in the U.S. eliminated eligibility for legal immigrants, who had been previously eligible on the same terms as citizens. These dramatic cutbacks affected eligibility not only for cash welfare assistance for families with children, but also for food stamps, Medicaid, SCHIP, and SSI. In this paper, we comprehensively examine the status of the U.S. safety net for immigrants and their family members. We document the policy changes that affected immigrant eligibility for these programs and use the CPS for 1995-2010 to analyze trends in program participation, income, and poverty among immigrants (and natives). We pay particular attention to the recent period and examine how immigrants and their children are faring in the "Great Recession" with an eye toward revealing how these policy changes have affected the success of the safety net in protecting this population.
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