The Application Process For TANF, Food Stamps, Medicaid, and SCHIP. Non-Citizen and Limited English Speaking Population Characteristics in the Six Study Sites


The six sites examined in this study are: New York City (five counties/NY), Dallas (Dallas and Tarrant Counties/TX), Seattle (King County/WA), Raleigh (Wake County/NC), Arlington (Arlington County/VA), and Sedalia (Pettis County/MO). These sites vary widely in population size — from New York, the nation's largest city, to Sedalia, a primarily agricultural town in a county of 39,000 (Exhibit 2-1). The sites represent a mix of new immigrant settlement areas and cities with larger, more established immigrant communities. The size and diversity of the immigrant population varies considerably across the sites, as does the share of limited English speakers and diversity of languages represented (for a full description of site selection criteria, see Appendix A).

Characteristics of Immigrant Populations in the Six Study Sites. As shown in Exhibit 2-1, New York City and Dallas both have Hispanic population shares over 25 percent, compared to near 5 percent in Seattle, Raleigh and Sedalia. Asian population shares are highest — about 10 percent — in Seattle, New York and Arlington, while Sedalia's Asian population is under one percent of the county's total population.

Site Total Population Share Hispanic (%) Share Asian*(%)
Exhibit 2-1: Total Population, Hispanic and Asian Shares (Study Sites, 2000)
Arlington County, VA 189,453 19 9
Dallas County, TX 2,218,899 30 4
New York City (5 counties), NY 8,008,278 27 10
Raleigh (Wake County), NC 627,846 5 3
Seattle (King County), WA 1,737,034 6 11
Sedalia (Pettis County), MO 39,403 4 0.4
*  Represents share one race, Asian. Some other Asians may have reported more than one race.
Source:  U.S. Census Bureau. 2002. "Census 2000 Summary File 1 (SF-1) 100-Percent Data Table DP-1." American FactFinder. Available at .

Three study sites have foreign-born population shares of 19 percent or over (Exhibit 2-2). New York City has the highest share of foreign-born and non-citizen populations, followed by Arlington, then Dallas County.1 Only Sedalia (Pettis County) has a foreign-born population below 10 percent. In all sites except New York City and Seattle (King County), more than half of the foreign-born population arrived during the 1990s, and in every site the majority of immigrants were non-citizens rather than naturalized citizens. Sedalia and Raleigh (Wake County) represent "new settlement" sites, with the highest shares of immigrants entering during the 1990s — 70 and 64 percent respectively. In New York City, by contrast, only 43 percent of immigrants entered during the 1990s.

Exhibit 2-2:
Foreign-Born, Non-Citizen, and Recently-Arrived Immigrant Populations
(Study Sites, 2000)
Site Foreign-Born Population Non-Citizen Population Entered During 1990's
Number Percent of Total Population Number Percent of Total Population Number Percent of Total Population
Arlington Co., VA 52,693 28% 38,300 20% 30,543 16%
Dallas Co., TX 463,574 21 361,373 16 264,942 12
King Co. WA 268,285 15 149,849 9 131,848 8
New York, NY 2,871,032 36 1,592,345 20 1,224,524 15
Pettis Co., MO 1,158 3 885 2 806 2
Wake Co., NC 60,602 10 44,240 7 38,994 6
Source:  U.S. Census Bureau. 2002. "Census 2000 Table DP-2. Profile of Selected Social Characteristics: 2000." American FactFinder. Available at

According to program staff and advocates, the composition of the immigrant population in terms of immigration status also varies greatly across and even within local sites. Some sites are more likely than others to encounter refugees applying for benefits, because refugee resettlement is generally concentrated in a few major cities. Undocumented populations tend to be larger (at least as a share of all immigrants) in new settlement areas, while the share of naturalized citizens among the foreign-born is higher in locations with more established immigrant communities.

The contrast between newer settlement areas versus more established immigration destinations reflects the increasing dispersal of immigrants across new areas of the country, a pattern that has important implications for language access issues considered in this study. Welfare and other human service agencies in localities with large, established immigrant communities — such as New York, Dallas, Seattle and Arlington — have more experience serving non-citizens and greater community resources to draw upon for interpretation and translation services. Human service agencies in the newer settlement areas, represented in our study by Raleigh and Sedalia, have much less experience with and far fewer resources to address language and other issues experienced by these populations.

Even communities accustomed to receiving large numbers of immigrants are now home to an increasingly diverse number of immigrant groups who speak dozens of different languages. This diversity presents its own set of challenges for human service agencies accustomed to dealing with fewer immigrant and language groups. For example, according to study respondents, Arlington, Seattle and Dallas received substantial numbers of new refugees from Southeast Asia during the 1980s, but by 2001 most refugees living there were from a broader range of nations including Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. According to a 1999-2000 Urban Institute survey, New York City has immigrants from over 100 countries (Capps et. al. 2002).

Characteristics of LEP Populations in the Six Study Sites. The largest cities — New York, Dallas and Seattle — have large and diverse immigrant populations speaking a wide variety of languages other than English. In New York City, Spanish speakers predominate, numbering nearly 2 million people, but there are five other languages with about 100,000 or more speakers, and over a dozen with more than 50,000 speakers. In Seattle, no single language is in the majority among non-English speakers and LEP persons speaking Asian languages outnumber Spanish speakers by more than two-to-one. In Dallas and Arlington, Spanish speakers predominate but there are also substantial numbers who speak Vietnamese and other languages. In Raleigh (Wake County) and Sedalia (Pettis County), the overall LEP population is relatively small and the most prevalent language spoken is Spanish. (See Appendix B for additional site-specific data on languages spoken in the home.)

Exhibit 2-3: Limited English Proficient (LEP) Adults Ages 18 and Over, by Major Language Group (Study Sites, 2000)
Site LEP Population**
Spanish Language
LEP Population*
Asian Languages
LEP Population*
Other Languages
Number of LEP Adults Percent of Total Adult Population Number of LEP Adults Percent of Total Adult Population Number of LEP Adults Percent of Total Adult Population
Arlington Co., VA 19,277 11 4,623 3% 5,893 3%
Dallas Co., TX 316,065 16 31,347 2 19,831 1
King Co., WA 32,382 2 72,219 4 33,070 2
New York City, NY 921,324 12 325,321 4 522,332 7
Pettis Co., MO 693 2 29 0.1 247 0.7
Wake Co., NC 20,542 4 5,697 1 6,228 1
*  Limited English Proficient persons speak English "well", "not well" or "not at all" (i.e., not "very well") on the Census Bureau's standard four-part question. The Census reports these figures for the population ages 5 and over.
Source:  U.S. Census Bureau. 2002. "Census 2000 Table DP-2. Profile of Selected Social Characteristics: 2000." American FactFinder. Available at

With the exception of New York City, the welfare agencies in our study sites do not track data on the English proficiency or immigration status of applicants or clients. The language composition picture that emerged from discussions with study participants closely matches that painted by the Census data, however. New York City and Seattle have the most language diversity in their applicant populations. TANF and Food Stamp recipients in New York speak at least 54 different languages, with the most common languages being Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Creole, French, Arabic, Yiddish and Vietnamese. One office in Seattle reported that speakers of about 50 languages came through their door during a single year. Languages commonly spoken by applicants and recipients other than Spanish in Seattle are Russian, Ukrainian, Somali and languages spoken in other African nations. Seattle agency staff reported that Cambodian, Vietnamese and Laotian speakers used to make up a larger share of applicants and recipients than is currently the case.

Eligibility workers and application assistants in Dallas reported encountering substantial numbers of Asians (including Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Korean and Chinese speakers) and, to a lesser extent, Africans and Middle Easterners (who speak a wide variety of languages including Arabic, Farsi, Somali and Swahili). In Arlington, most LEP applicants speak Spanish but a very small share speak a variety of other languages and, like Seattle, the share of applicants and clients who speak Cambodian, Vietnamese or Laotian has declined significantly over time, as refugee flows from Southeast Asia have subsided.

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