National Data | Immigrant Welfare Scandal Continues

One trumpeted goal of the 1996 welfare reform: reducing the scandal of immigrant welfare dependency. Didn`t work.

Immigrants who entered the U.S. after August 22, 1996 were prohibited from receiving most types of public assistance. (But the ban is lifted when the immigrant becomes an American citizen—remember that next July 4 when you read the usual dewy-eyed accounts of mass swearing-in ceremonies).

Nevertheless, the 2000 Census shows that immigrants continue to receive every major welfare program at higher rates than native-born Americans. (And remember: the native-born rate is boosted by troubled subgroups like blacks and Hispanics—the native-born white welfare dependency rate is significantly lower.)

 

  • Nearly one in five (18.6%) immigrant households receive Medicaid, compared to nearly one in eight (13.1%) households headed by a U.S. native.

 

  • Children in immigrant households are two and a half times more likely to get subsidized school lunch benefits (15.5%) than children in native households (5.8%)

 

  • Immigrant households are more than quarter more likely to receive food stamps than native-born households (6.7% immigrant households v. 5.3%)

 

  • Immigrants are a third more likely to be on SSI (Supplemental Security Income) than the native-born (5.3% v. 3.9%)

 

The most immigrant-subsidizing benefit of all was not even addressed by the 1996 welfare reform. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is not a welfare program, but part of the tax code. It provides cash refunds to low-income workers with children. Technically only immigrants with legal work status are eligible for EITC. But in fact the IRS, with its celebrated kind-heartedness, allows immigrants to claim EITC benefits retroactively for up to three years prior to obtaining legal work status. This, in effect, gives refunds to people for work they performed while here illegally, on which they very well may not have paid taxes.

 

  • Immigrants receive EITC at nearly twice the rate of natives—25.5% of immigrant households versus 13.2% of native households.

 

  • Amazingly, nearly half (49.2%) Mexican immigrants receive EITC – a significantly higher recipiency rate than other immigrant nationalities.

EITC is the nation`s most expensive means tested program for working families. Over $32 billion was distributed in 2002. Taken together, means-tested social programs cost U.S. taxpayers more than $300 billion annually. More than one-fifth of that amount going to immigrant households – although they make up only just over a tenth (11%) of total households. 

There`s a real question why immigrants get welfare at all. Aren`t we supposed to be importing people who will improve us?

But current policy is importing immigrants whose welfare dependency is actually worse than ours.

And American taxpayers are continuing to finance their own dispossession.

Welfare Program Recipiency Rates:

Immigrants v. Natives, 2000

 

Program

Percent Receiving Benefits:

Immigrant Usage as Multiple of Native

Immigrants

Natives

EITC

25.5%

13.1%

1.9-times

Medicaid

18.6

12.1

1.5

School Lunch

15.5

5.8

2.7

Food Stamps

6.7

5.3

1.3

SSI

5.3

3.9

1.4

UN Compensation

5.0

4.7

1.1

Public Housing

4.9

4.2

1.2

General Assistance

3.2

2.1

1.5

Source: Center for Immigration Studies, “Immigration from Mexico: Assessing the Impact on the United States,” July 2001. Figure 12, page 36.

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.