Status of Research on the Outcomes of Welfare Reform, 2000. Welfare Reform and the Health and Economic Status of Immigrants and the Organizations that Serve Them


Since 1997, HHS, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice have been funding the Urban Institute under a cooperative agreement to study the impact of recent changes in Federal laws on immigrant families and children and to profile immigrants with regard to their health, employment, economic circumstances and participation in government programs. The project includes an examination of existing data combined with intensive primary data collection in Los Angeles and New York - two cities that together account for one-fourth of all the immigrants in the United States. The field work began in spring 1999. Intensive interviews will also be conducted with public and private community organizations that serve immigrants, as well as focus groups with immigrants affected by the new laws. National profiles of immigrant populations are being developed using secondary data and these will be compared with natives. Local administrative data will be used to map out relevant local trends in program participation and, where possible, to develop neighborhood indicators of health and other trends.

Three reports have been released to date, and several additional reports will be completed, culminating with a final report in October 2001. All reports from this project will be posted at <>.

The first report, Declining Immigrant Applications for Medi-Cal and Welfare Benefits in Los Angeles County, analyzed administrative data to compare citizen and non-citizen rates of applications and approvals under AFDC/TANF, SSI, General Assistance, Medicaid, and food stamps in Los Angeles County, between January 1996 and January 1998. Over this period, approved applications for legal non-citizen families under Medi-Cal (California's Medicaid program) and AFDC/TANF fell by 52 percent, while there was no decline in approved applications for U.S. citizens. The number of U.S. citizen children with non-citizen parents applying for AFDC/TANF and Medi-Cal declined by 48 percent during this period, while the number of U.S. citizen children with U.S. citizen parents increased by 6 percent. Fewer immigrant families appeared to be applying for assistance, although the program eligibility rules did not change during this period. Application denial rates in the county remained steady during the period examined. The full report can be found at <>.

A second report, Trends in Noncitizens' and Citizens' Use of Public Benefits Following Welfare Reform: 1994-1997, analyzed Current Population Survey (CPS) data, comparing participation rates for U.S. citizens and non-citizens in cash assistance, food stamps and Medicaid programs. Nationally, overall use of public benefits by the total population declined between 1994 and 1997. However, during this period, the rate of decline within non-citizen households (35 percent) was more than double the rate of decline within citizen households (14 percent). During this time period, relatively few legal immigrants would have been affected by the benefit restrictions directed primarily to newer arrivals. Thus it appears that the steeper drop in overall non-citizen use of cash assistance benefits, food stamps, and Medicaid, reflects the "chilling effect" of welfare and immigration reform more than it does actual program eligibility changes.

Other evidence of the chilling effects is that refugees, who were given greater benefit protections under welfare reform than other immigrants, experienced participation declines at a rate (33 percent) about equal to declines among all non-citizens. Welfare use in non-citizen households with children declined at similar rates (36 percent). Overall, non-citizen households, who in 1994 were 9 percent of all households receiving welfare, comprised 23 percent of the drop in welfare caseloads between 1994 and 1997. The report can be found at: <>.

The third report is an analysis of the composition of immigrant households using 1998 CPS data. The report, All Under One Roof: Mixed-Status Families in an Era of Reform, found that "mixed status" families (i.e., families where at least one parent is a non-citizen and one or more children are U.S. citizens) are surprisingly prevalent in the United States. One in 10 children in America live in such families. As one might expect, these families are more prevalent in places where immigrants are concentrated. More than a quarter (27 percent) of all California families and 14 percent of all New York families are mixed status. Nearly half (47 percent) of all children in Los Angeles and more than a quarter (27 percent) of all children in New York City live in mixed-status families. Compared to other families, more mixed status families are low-income, and more children living in these families have no health insurance. The report can be found at <>.