Welfare Reform:

Many States Continue Some Federal or State Benefits for Immigrants

HEHS-98-132: Published: Jul 31, 1998. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed Title IV of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 and the impact its restrictions would have on immigrant children and their families, focusing on: (1) the options states chose regarding Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid benefits for immigrants and state-funded assistance available to new immigrants during the 5-year bar; (2) for restricted federal programs, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and food stamps, the number of immigrants, including children, whose federal benefits have been terminated, and the state-funded assistance available to them; and (3) the major implementation issues and challenges state agencies face in administering the provisions changing welfare assistance to immigrants.

GAO noted that: (1) although the states could have dropped immigrants from their welfare rolls, most states have chosen to provide some welfare benefit to part of this population; (2) nearly all states have chosen to continue providing federal TANF and Medicaid benefits to pre-reform immigrants and to provide these benefits to new immigrants after 5 years of U.S. residency; (3) about a third of the states use state funds to provide similar benefits to some new immigrants during the 5-year bar; (4) among these states are 6 of the 10 where most immigrants live--2 states provide state-funded medical assistance and 4 states provide both state-funded cash and medical assistance; (5) with the states' continuation of TANF and Medicaid benefits to pre-reform immigrants and the retention of these immigrants' SSI benefits, the greatest economic impact of welfare reform for most of these immigrants is the loss of federally funded food stamp benefits; (6) after the implementation of the food stamp restrictions, an estimated 940,000 immigrants receiving food stamps in 1997 lost eligibility for receiving them; (7) almost one-fifth of this group consisted of immigrant children; (8) at the time of GAO's review, 14 states had created state-funded food stamp programs serving about a quarter of this immigrant group nationwide--primarily children, the disabled, and the elderly; (9) fewer states, however, offer state-funded food stamps to new immigrants; (10) the most recent legislation will restore food stamp eligibility to an estimated 250,000 immigrants, mostly children, the disabled, and the elderly, the same groups targeted by state-funded food stamp programs; (11) states' responses to the restoring of these benefits, such as changing eligibility for state-funded programs, are unknown at this time; (12) with the implementation of the welfare reform restrictions for immigrants, states and local governments face added responsibilities; (13) states' future challenges include verifying the citizenship or immigration status of applicants for all federal public benefits and enforcing affidavits of support for new immigrants sponsored by relatives; (14) the states GAO visited anticipated major systems changes and other additional work to implement the new verification procedures; (15) furthermore, states choosing to provide assistance to immigrants no longer eligible for federal benefits are uncertain about future funding for these programs; and (16) these states also face additional challenges managing funding streams and determining eligibility for federal and state programs.

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