Illegal Aliens:

Extent of Welfare Benefits Received on Behalf of U.S. Citizen Children

HEHS-98-30: Published: Nov 19, 1997. Publicly Released: Nov 19, 1997.

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Jane L. Ross
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a legislative mandate, GAO provided information on the extent to which means-tested public benefits are provided to illegal aliens for the use of eligible individuals, focusing on: (1) the extent and the locations that selected federal means-tested benefits are being provided to illegal aliens for use by their U.S. citizen children; and (2) the nature and extent of fraud or misrepresentation detected in connection with these benefits.

GAO noted that: (1) in fiscal year (FY) 1995, about $1.1 billion in Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and Food Stamp benefits were provided to households with an illegal alien parent for the use of his or her citizen child; (2) this amount accounted for about 3 percent of AFDC and 2 percent of Food Stamp benefit costs; (3) a vast majority of households receiving these benefits resided in a few states--85 percent of the AFDC households were in California, New York, Texas, and Arizona; (4) 81 percent of Food Stamp households were in California, Texas, and Arizona; (5) California households alone accounted for $720 million of the combined AFDC and Food Stamp caseloads; (6) although illegal aliens also received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Department of Housing and Urban Development housing assistance for their citizen children, data to develop estimates for these two programs were not available; (7) comprehensive national statistics on any misrepresentation or fraud perpetrated by illegal aliens receiving benefits on behalf of their citizen children are not available; (8) a few California counties' studies of AFDC households indicate that the rates and types of potential misrepresentation or fraud are similar both for households headed by illegal aliens and for the general welfare population; (9) in these studies, one of the most commonly cited types of misrepresentation or fraud was the underreporting of income; (10) income is a key factor in determining program eligibility and benefit amounts and, when underreported, can result in overpayment of benefits; and (11) the states visited by GAO had procedures in place to verify income, but officials said that verifying individuals' income from earnings obtained through the underground economy was very difficult--for both illegal aliens and for citizens--in part because these earnings are not documented or reported to state or federal databases used to verify employment or earnings.

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