Welfare Reform:

Implications of Proposals on Legal Immigrants' Benefits

HEHS-95-58: Published: Feb 2, 1995. Publicly Released: Feb 2, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the effect of proposed welfare reform legislation on legal immigrant welfare recipients, focusing on: (1) legal immigrants' and citizens' use of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) programs; (2) the numbers of legal immigrants receiving SSI or AFDC benefits; (3) the immigrant recipients that could lose benefits under the welfare reform proposals; and (4) the possible impacts of restricting immigrants' SSI and AFDC benefits on federal welfare programs.

GAO found that: (1) a greater percentage of legal immigrants receive SSI or AFDC benefits than do citizens; (2) immigrants tend to be poorer than citizens and have more small children, more elderly or disabled family members, and more family members with minimal education and skill levels; (3) the number of immigrants receiving SSI benefits more than quadrupled between 1983 and 1993 and these immigrants now comprise over 11 percent of all SSI recipients; (4) legal immigrants received an estimated $1.2 billion in AFDC benefits in 1993; (5) most immigrant recipients are lawful permanent residents or refugees and are 75 years old or older; (6) one welfare reform proposal would save $9.2 billion in SSI benefits and $1 billion in AFDC benefits over 4 years by dropping about 500,000 immigrant recipients from each program; (7) the Administration's proposal would affect fewer immigrants and extend the length of sponsorship and tighten eligibility standards; (8) the two welfare reform proposals could save between $3.3 billion and $21.7 billion over 4 years; and (9) the loss of benefits could cause immigrants to change their immigration, work, and naturalization patterns or to turn to state welfare programs for support.

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