Welfare Reform:

Public Assistance Benefits Provided to Recently Naturalized Citizens

HEHS-99-102: Published: Jun 23, 1999. Publicly Released: Jun 23, 1999.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the: (1) number of recently naturalized citizens receiving benefits from four major public assistance programs (Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Food Stamps) compared with that of the native-born population in 1997; and (2) estimated annual cost to the federal and state governments of providing such benefits to these naturalized citizens.

GAO noted that: (1) GAO's analysis shows that the recently naturalized citizens it identified generally used SSI, Medicaid, and TANF benefits at a higher rate in 1997 than the native-born population; (2) nationally, out of the 927,338 immigrants who were recently naturalized, GAO found that about 8.3 percent received SSI benefits during 1997; (3) this rate is higher than the rate of 2.4 percent for the nation's native-born citizens; (4) also, the rate of benefit receipt for recently naturalized citizens in the Medicaid and TANF programs was higher than the Current Population Survey-based estimate for the native-born population in several of the states GAO examined, although the magnitude of difference varied across some states; (5) GAO found that 9.6 percent of the recently naturalized citizens in Texas received Medicaid compared with 6.1 percent of the native-born population, while 23.7 percent of the recently naturalized citizens in California received such benefits compared with 8.2 percent of the native-born population; (6) GAO found similar patterns of difference for the TANF program in the states GAO examined; (7) because GAO compared estimates derived from administrative data for recently naturalized citizens with estimates derived from self-reported survey data for native-born citizens, the actual variation between the two populations' receipt of public assistance may differ somewhat from GAO's estimates; (8) nevertheless, these estimates are the most accurate GAO could calculate given the data available; (9) a variety of factors may contribute to differences in the benefit receipt rates between the recently naturalized citizens and the native-born population; (10) these include individuals' decisions to apply for benefits, as well as program eligibility factors such as income; (11) the benefits paid by the federal and state governments in 1997 to the recently naturalized citizens included in GAO's review totalled about $735 million for the four programs; (12) this figure reflects nationwide data for the SSI program, as well as data from five states for the Medicaid and Food Stamp programs (representing 76 percent of all the recently naturalized citizens in GAO's review), and from four states for the TANF program (representing 71 percent of all the recently naturalized citizens in GAO's review); and (13) overall, the percentage of benefits paid to recently naturalized citizens in each program was about 1 percent or less of the total benefits paid to all recipients.

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