- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Immigrants' use of welfare, which was supposed to be cut by 1996 welfare and immigration reform laws, has grown back to levels of that year, according to a new report by the Center for Immigration Studies.
"You can't cut immigrants off of welfare. That's what the '96 law shows," said Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the center. "You're either going to have to accept the fact that they're using a lot more programs, or you're going to have to change immigration policy. There's no middle ground."
In 1996, 21.9 percent of households led by immigrants used at least one major welfare program. That fell to 19.7 percent in 1999, but by 2001 it had climbed back to 22.7 percent.
And in 1996 immigrants accounted for 14.2 percent of households using welfare, and in 2001 they were 17.9 percent of the total.
What those numbers mean, Mr. Camarota said, is that it's impossible to cut down immigrants' use of welfare.
They found ways around it, some states began to fund benefits on their own and the federal government retreated on several of the cuts, he said.
In the report "Back Where We Started?" the center looked at Census Bureau data for four major welfare programs: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplementary Security Income (SSI), food stamps and Medicaid.
The 1996 changes cut in half the percentage of immigrants using TANF and food stamps, while use of SSI has fallen slightly. But immigrant households' use of Medicare went up 1.3 percent, to 21.8 percent of households.
The average payments to families for TANF and food stamps also decreased substantially in the case of TANF, falling by two-thirds. But that was offset by increases in Medicaid payments, which have the largest average payment. The average payments to immigrant families have gone up by 24 percent since 1996, from $1,203 to $1,492.
Until 1996 legal immigrants were eligible for welfare based on mostly the same qualifications as U.S. citizens. But the 1996 welfare reform law changed that, making citizenship a test and adding residency requirements and other restrictions to determine legal residents' eligibility.
But in 1997 Congress grandfathered in many immigrants receiving SSI, and has since restored food-stamp benefits for many legal immigrants as well.
More than 3 million immigrant families used a welfare program in 2001. About 2.4 million of those were led by legal immigrants, and 663,000 of were led by illegal immigrants. Taken together, 22.7 percent of immigrant families used a welfare program, while 15 percent of native-led families did.
Among illegal-immigrant households, most of them had citizen or legal-resident children who were enrolled in Medicaid, the state-run medical-coverage program.
Mr. Camarota said his research showed that it's not a matter of immigrants being unwilling to work. In 2001, almost 80 percent of immigrant-led households on welfare had at least one person working.
But education level is a key indicator of whether immigrant households will use welfare, Mr. Camarota said.
He said 42 percent of households led by immigrants who dropped out of high school use welfare, while that's true of 10 percent of immigrant households led by someone with a college education.
"The idea you can bring unskilled people into the country and not impose huge costs on taxpayers is a fallacy. It's a kind of libertarian fantasy," Mr. Camarota said.

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