How Are Immigrants Faring After Welfare Reform?. Food Stamp Receipt among Low-income Families

03/04/2002

Our analysis begins with a comparison of citizen and noncitizen receipt of food stamps, using the March 1999 CPS. When only New York and Los Angles are considered, the CPS does not show substantially lower food stamp participation among low-income families with noncitizen adults than among families with only naturalized or native-born citizen adults (Table 2.10). The likely explanation for this finding is the relative generosity of the states of California and New York in extending food assistance to many legal immigrants denied eligibility for the federal FSP by PRWORA. In fact, both states fall into the "generous" category developed by Zimmermann and Tumlin (1999) and used by Borjas (2001) in his analysis of the link between food stamp receipt and food insecurity.

Table 2.10.
Food Stamp Receipt among Low-Income Families in the March 1999 Current Population Survey

Citizenship and Legal Status

Population (thousands) Food Stamp receipt during the previous year
Recipients (thousands) Share of population

Los Angeles County

Native Families

1,086 87 8%

Immigrant Families

1,363 138 10%

Naturalized

322 21 6%

Noncitizen

1,042 118 11%

New York City

Native Families

1,232 360 29%

Immigrant Families

1,019 249 24%

Naturalized

344 85 25%

Noncitizen

675 164 24%

Sample Size: 1438

Notes: Low-income families are those with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level during the year before the survey. The Current Population Survey defines families slightly differently than LANYCIS. To create this table, we used a definition of the nuclear family which is comparable to but not exactly the same as the definition of the family in LANYCIS.

The March 1999 CPS also shows that food stamp participation is higher among low-income families in New York than in Los Angeles, but the difference in rates is higher among citizen than noncitizen families. FSP participation during the year before the survey (1998-99) is twice as high among low-income noncitizen families in New York than in Los Angeles (24 versus 11 percent) and four times as high among naturalized families (25 versus 6 percent). The CPS shows participation of 29 percent among low-income native families in New York, almost four times the rate for native families in Los Angeles (8 percent) (Table 2.10).

These CPS figures, however, include families with both elderly and non-elderly members, and those receiving a number of other benefit programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a federally-funded and administered cash benefit program for disabled and elderly adults. In the State of California, SSI recipients get food stamps along with SSI benefits as part of the same disbursement (in other words, food stamps are "cashed out" in the SSI program). As a result, many SSI recipients may not be aware they are receiving benefits from food stamps as well. This has the effect of lowering reported FSP participation in Los Angeles, thereby creating a bias in the estimate.

In LANYCIS, only 5 percent of low-income immigrant families with elderly members report receiving food stamps during the previous year(46) in Los Angeles, compared to 68 percent of low-income immigrant families with elders in New York. By comparison, reported food stamp receipt rates for families with no elders are 14 percent in Los Angeles and 20 percent in New York, a much smaller difference (Table 2.11). Twenty-nine percent of low-income immigrant families receiving SSI report food stamps receipt in Los Angeles, compared to 82 percent in New York. Differences in food stamps receipt are much smaller among families receiving TANF or no other benefits (Table 2.12). In order to account for these differences in reporting receipt of food stamps, families with elders are excluded from most of the figures discussed in the remainder of this report.

Table 2.11.
Food Stamp Receipt among Low-Income Immigrant Families, by Family Composition

Family Composition*

Population (thousands) Food Stamp receipt during the previous year
Recipients (thousands) Share of population

Los Angeles County

Families without Elders

1,039 142 14%

Working-age adult(s) without Children

476 18 4%

One Adult with Children

111 44 40%

Two or More Adults with Children

452 80 18%

Families with Elders

72 4 5%

Elders without Adults

34 0 1%

Elders with Adults

38 4 9%

New York City

Families without Elders

695 137 20%

Working-age adult(s) without Children

409 33 8%

One Adult with Children

93 52 55%

Two or More Adults with Children

193 52 27%

Families with Elders

109 74 68%

Elders without Adults

71 50 70%

Elders with Adults

37 24 64%

Sample Size: 2361

* Children are under age 18. Working-age adults are ages 18 to 64, and elders are over age 64.
Notes: Low-income families are those with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level during the year before the survey. "x" denotes a small sample size.
Source: Urban Institute, LANYCIS

Table 2.12.
Food Stamp Receipt among Low-Income Immigrant Families, by Other Program Receipt

Current Program Receipt

Population (thousands) Food Stamp receipt during the previous year
Recipients (thousands) Share of population

Los Angeles County

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

94 78 83%

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

42 12 29%

General Assistance (GA)

28 22 79%

No Programs

986 53 5%

New York City

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

32 32 99%

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

105 85 82%

General Assistance (GA)

x x x

No Programs

667 95 14%

Sample Size: 2361

Notes: Low-income families are those with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level during the year before the survey. "x "denotes a small sample size.
Source: Urban Institute, LANYCIS

Low-income non-elderly families with undocumented adults have the lowest participation rates (13 percent in Los Angeles and 15 percent in New York). Among low-income families where all adults are undocumented, only 2 percent in Los Angeles and less than one percent in New York report receiving benefits within the year prior to the survey. Participation rates are relatively high, however (23 percent in Los Angeles and 51 percent in New York) for mixed-status families in which only one adult is undocumented (Table 2.13). In Los Angeles 40 percent of low-income families not receiving food stamps at any time since 1996 include undocumented adults. The comparable figure is 26 percent in New York.

Table 2.13.
Food Stamp Receipt among Low-Income Non-Elderly Immigrant Families, by Citizenship and Legal Status

Citizenship and Legal Status*

Population (thousands) Food Stamp receipt during the previous year
Recipients (thousands) Share of population

Los Angeles County

Immigrant Families

1,039 142 14%

Naturalized

205 29 14%

Noncitizen

834 113 14%

Legal

380 53 14%

Refugee

56 9 17%

Undocumented

398 51 13%

Mixed status

203 47 23%

All undocumented

195 4 2%

New York City

Immigrant Families

695 137 20%

Naturalized

172 45 26%

Noncitizen

523 92 18%

Legal

321 57 18%

Refugee

43 12 27%

Undocumented

159 23 15%

Mixed status

46 23 51%

All undocumented

114 0 0%

Sample Size: 2000

* An undocumented family includes at least one undocumented adult. In a legal immigrant family there is at least one legal immigrant adult but no undocumented adults. Refugee families are those with at least one refugee but no undocumented or legal immigrant adults. Finally, naturalized families include only naturalized adults. The legal status and citizenship of children are not considered in this classification.
Notes: Low-income families are those with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level during the year before the survey. Non-elderly families are those with no members ages 65 or over. "x "denotes a small sample size.
Source: Urban Institute, LANYCIS

FSP participation is also relatively high for low-income refugee families, though more so in New York (27 percent) than in Los Angeles (17 percent). Naturalized families have a higher participation rate than noncitizens overall in New York, but the same rate in Los Angeles (Table 2.13).

In both cities, rates of food stamp receipt increase as English proficiency falls, but there are few differences in receipt by tenure in the United States. Low-income families with adults entering after August 1996 in Los Angeles and after 1992 in New York are slightly less likely to receive food stamps, but otherwise there is little variation by tenure (Table 2.14). Low-income LEP families, however, are much more likely to receive food stamps than proficient families (15 versus 6 percent in Los Angeles, and 22 versus 12 percent in New York (Table 2.15). These findings suggest that food stamps are being provided to needier families  those with LEP adults  in keeping with their higher food insecurity rates.

Table 2.14.
Food Stamp Receipt among Low-Income Non-Elderly Immigrant Families,
by Year of Arrival to the United States

Year of Arrival*

Population (thousands) Food Stamp receipt during the previous year
Recipients (thousands) Share of population

Los Angeles County

All Immigrant Families

1,039 142 14%

After August 1996

138 8 5%

1992 to August 1996

193 23 12%

1987 to 1991

262 35 13%

1982 to 1986

133 25 19%

Before 1982

284 47 17%

New York City

All Immigrant Families

695 137 20%

After August 1996

151 26 17%

1992 to August 1996

187 28 15%

1987 to 1991

153 32 21%

1982 to 1986

79 22 28%

Before 1982

121 28 23%

Sample Size: 2000

* Year of Arrival is the latest date any adult immigrant in the family last came to stay in the United States.
Notes: Low-income families are those with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level during the year before the survey. Non-elderly families are those with no members ages 65 or over. "x "denotes a small sample size.
Source: Urban Institute, LANYCIS
Table 2.15.
Food Stamp Receipt among Low-Income Non-Elderly Immigrant Families, by English Proficiency

English Proficiency*

Population (thousands) Food Stamp receipt during the previous year
Recipients (thousands) Share of population

Los Angeles County

All Immigrant Families

1,039 142 14%

English Proficient

180 10 6%

English Only

x x x

Very Well

154 10 6%

Limited English Proficient

850 131 15%

Well

265 38 14%

Not Well

412 67 16%

Not At All

173 26 15%

New York City

All Immigrant Families

695 137 20%

English Proficient

179 22 12%

English Only

68 17 25%

Very Well

111 5 5%

Limited English Proficient

515 114 22%

Well

167 30 18%

Not Well

276 55 20%

Not At All

72 30 41%

Sample Size: 2000

* Respondents were first asked if they primarily speak a language other than English at home. Those who primarily speak another language (the vast majority of samples in both cities) were then asked whether they speak English "very well", "well", "not well" or "not at all." We categorize people speaking only English or English very well as proficient, and those speaking English well, not well or not at all as limited English proficient (LEP).
Notes: Low-income families are those with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level during the year before the survey. Non-elderly families are those with no members ages 65 or over. "x "denotes a small sample size.
Source: Urban Institute, LANYCIS

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