This Spotlight examines the eligibility of immigrants for welfare as provided for in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996. These rules were subsequently modified (see "Immigrants, Welfare Reform, and the Coming Reauthorization Vote" by Audrey Singer), but the significant changes made under the PRWORA make it worth examining in detail.
The PRWORA was passed with bipartisan support under the Clinton administration, and dramatically reformed the nation's welfare system. A specific provision, Title IV, changed the eligibility of noncitizens for public assistance. In addition to income, eligibility for major federal benefits was linked to immigration status and whether the applicant arrived before Aug. 22, 1996, which was the date the law was enacted. Specifically, PRWORA provides for the following:
(Sources: Richardson and Wassem 2002, National Conference of State Legislators).
For LPRs, the percentage of reductions in usage were:
Food stamps: -48%
Social security insurance: -32%
For refugees, the declines were as follows:
Food stamps: -53%
Capps, Randy et.al., "How are Immigrants Faring After Welfare Reform?: Preliminary Evidence from Los Angeles and New York City," (Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute, 2002).
Fix, Michael and Jeffrey Passel, "The Scope and Impact of Welfare Reform's Immigrant Provisions," (Washington, D.C: The Urban Institute, 2002).
Fix, Michael and Jeffrey Passel, "Trends in Noncitizens' and Citizens' Use of Public Benefits Following Welfare Reform: 1994-97," (Washington, D.C. : The Urban Institute, 1999).
Fremstad, Shawn, "Immigrants and Welfare Reauthorization," (Washington, D.C.: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, February 4, 2002).
Richardson, Joe and Ruth Ellen Wasem, "Noncitizen Eligibility for Major Federal Public Assistance Programs: Policies and Legislation" (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2002).
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program," report to Congress, Washington, D.C. August 2002.
Zimmermann, Wendy and Karen Tumlin, "Patchwork Policies: State Assistance for Immigrants Under Welfare Reform," (Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute, 1999).