How Are Immigrants Faring After Welfare Reform?. Reasons for Food Stamp Termination


Respondents cite changes in income and family composition as the most common reasons for losing food stamps since welfare reform was implemented. Among the group losing benefits between 1996 and the year before the survey, 34 percent of respondents in Los Angeles and 63 percent in New York said the primary reason was a change in employment or income. Changes in family composition were the reason for 17 percent of respondents in Los Angeles and 2 percent in New York. Another 6 percent in New York and 12 percent in Los Angeles said they chose to stop receiving benefits. Policy changes, program cuts, bureaucratic problems, and errors were cited only 7 percent of the time in both cities. Twelve percent of respondents in Los Angeles and 3 percent in New York did not know why benefits were cut.(49) Patterns among the group losing benefits or having them reduced during the year before the survey are similar. Thus, improvement in economic circumstances  as measured by jobs and income  is a much greater factor in benefits loss than are program eligibility cuts or bureaucratic problems, at least in the overall LANYCIS sample.

These findings seem at odds with the conclusions of the USDA study cited earlier in this report (USDA 2001), and that study has a very different methodology. The USDA study relies on decomposition analysis of trends in food stamp participation using national data. The study shows that when two points in time are considered, most of the difference in food stamp participation among immigrant families is not due to changes in income or family composition, but to other factors. A majority of the drop in immigrant FSP participation is attributable, at least in theory, to immigrant eligibility rules in PRWORA and other factors which may have chilled immigrant participation. Yet, these data provide no direct evidence as to why certain families stopped receiving food stamps.(50) The direct evidence in LANYCIS suggests that income, job and family composition changes account for most terminations, to the extent that survey respondents understood why their families lost benefits. An alternative explanation is that welfare reform policy changes and other factors had less of an impact on noncitizen food stamp participation in New York City and Los Angeles than in the rest of the country. In particular, immigrant families in Los Angeles may have benefited from California's seamless replacement of lost federal food stamp benefits.

Notwithstanding the evidence from the larger sample, in-person follow-up interviews with 100 respondents in each city reveal a variety of cases in which benefits were cut due to miscommunication and other problems between recipients and the social service agency. Respondents who had benefits denied, terminated or who experienced delays in recertification cited the following reasons: lack of translation, difficulty verifying rent, address changes, missed appointments, arguments with caseworkers over verification, and accusations of fraudulent immigration documents. Food stamp eligibility determination requires careful verification of family composition, income and expenses. The extensive communication and paperwork required between recipients and their caseworkers can be challenging, especially for LEP applicants. Language access during eligibility determination and re-determination procedures appears to be extremely important, considering that about 70 percent of food insecure immigrant families in New York and 80 percent in Los Angeles are LEP.

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