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February 1997, Volume 4, Number 2

Poverty and Welfare Reform

According to US Census Bureau data, the percentage of the nation's Hispanics in poverty--30 percent--in 1995 for the first time exceeded the percentage of Blacks in poverty--29 percent. The US has 27 million Hispanic and 34 million Black residents.

The poverty line in 1995 was $15,569 for a family of four.

Hispanics were one-fourth of those with incomes of $7,500 or less for a family of four, 24 percent were Hispanic. Average Hispanic household incomes dropped from $26,000 in 1989 to $22,900 in 1995, while Black household incomes rose. Incomes declined for both native-born and immigrant Hispanics.

The reasons why Hispanic incomes are low and falling include low education and lack of English.

Some believe that the large number of Hispanic immigrants in recent years--two million arrived between 1990 and 1994--has lowered the wages and incomes of both native-born and immigrant Hispanics. Many adult Hispanics have little education, which tends to lower their wages and incomes. According to the Census, US Hispanics trace their origins to 24 countries.

Welfare Reform Implementation. Under the new welfare law, about one million immigrants currently receiving food stamps are scheduled to be begin to be removed from the beneficiary rolls beginning April 1, 1997, followed by 500,000 immigrants currently receiving Supplemental Security Income who are scheduled to be removed by May 15, 1997.

About one million 4-page notices were mailed to SSI recipients, who receive an average $407 per month, in early February, advising them that they would have to prove that they were US citizens or legal immigrants still eligible for benefits to continue receiving SSI payments. Immigrants still eligible for federally-funded benefits include refugees in their first five years in the United States, US military personnel and veterans, and people who have worked in the United States for the equivalent of 10 years.

SSI is a $27-billion-a-year program that serves 6.5 million poor persons who are blind, disabled and over age 65. About 800,000 SSI recipients are legal aliens, and about 500,000 are expected not to requalify for SSI under the new law.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 40 percent of the money to be saved under the welfare law--$24 billion of $55 billion over seven years--comes from denying benefits to immigrants.

President Clinton's FY98 budget, to be released in early February, is expected to propose $13 billion in additional welfare spending to restore benefits to legal immigrants, including $11 billion in SSI payments for immigrants who become disabled after they enter the United States, $1 billion to support refugees for seven years or until they become US citizens, and

$1 billion for emergency health coverage under Medicaid for immigrant children.

Republican governors, including New York's Pataki, Jim Edgar of Illinois, George W. Bush of Texas and William F. Weld of Massachusetts, endorsed the effort to restore $14 billion of the $24 billion in projected federal welfare benefit savings expected to accrue as a result of making legal immigrants ineligible for benefits.

Beginning in March 1997, legal immigrants who want to sponsor their relatives for admission must earn at least 125 percent of the poverty line, or $19,500 for a family of four. Immigrant sponsors must also sign enforceable affidavits promising to support the immigrants after their arrival for 10 years or until the immigrant becomes a US citizen.

The federal government on January 31, 1997 advised states that they can spend state funds to provide benefits to poor people who are not eligible for benefits under the new welfare law, including legal immigrants. There had been some doubt over whether state spending would count for the purpose of showing the federal government that the state is continuing to maintain its welfare spending at 75 percent to 80 percent of the amount spent in 1994.

Under the old AFDC program, the federal and state governments shared the costs of cash assistance for the poor on a 50-50 basis.

As of December 1996, 38 states had filed plans with the federal government to implement the new welfare law, and most said that they would continue to provide some benefits to legal immigrants. Only Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Wyoming announced plans to end all benefits for legal immigrants.

Several mayors and governors, including those in New York City and Massachusetts, said that they will sue to preserve the right to spend state moneys as they see fit.

The welfare law requires states to provide the INS each quarter with the names and addresses of persons known to the state to be illegal aliens. The first state reports were due in early January 1997, covering the first quarter of FY97, but no state filed a report as of January 8. Several states, including Rhode Island, have announced that they will not comply with the law. New York City Mayor Giuliani sued the federal government in October, 1996, asserting that the reporting requirement was unconstitutional.

California/Arizona. Governor Wilson's $66.6 billion budget for 1997-98 proposes to continue cash assistance and health benefits for poor legal immigrants in the US before August 22, 1996, even though the new federal welfare law allows states to make these immigrants ineligible for benefits. Legal immigrants who arrived after August 22, 1996 are not eligible for federally-financed benefits.

About 26 percent of California's 32 million residents are immigrants-- five million immigrants have settled in California since 1980.

In 1997, a single mother with two children receives $565 a month in cash assistance in urban counties and $538 a month in rural counties. In addition, counties provide an average $212 a month in general assistance to poor adults who are not raising children.

An estimated 99,000 elderly and disabled legal immigrants in California will lose federal Supplemental Security Income benefits that average $626 monthly. An estimated 150,000 legal immigrants in California will lose food stamps; a family of three now receives $244 monthly. About 124,000 adults and children could lose federal checks averaging about $600 monthly for a family of four if California opts to bar legal immigrants from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the successor to Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

Most newly arriving legal immigrants will be banned from the social safety net for at least five years; their sponsors, usually relatives, will be legally liable for the cost of their care.

Arizona in January announced plans to stop providing prenatal care to illegal alien mothers by July 1, 1997. Arizona spent about $7.2 million providing care for about 800 illegal alien mothers who delivered babies each month in 1996. About 11 percent of all births in Arizona are to illegal alien mothers.

New York. If California Governor Pete Wilson has become the most outspoken advocate of reducing aid to legal immigrants, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has become one of the most prominent advocates for immigrants. On January 9, 1997, Giuliani and 25 celebrities and business leaders announced at Ellis Island that they would publicize the benefits of immigration to the US. Some 13 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924; two percent of those who arrived were returned to their countries of origin.

Immigrants were about 33 percent of New York's residents in 1994--some 2.5 million immigrants live in New York City, including 400,000 illegal aliens. An additional 20 percent of New York City's residents are the children of immigrants. Some 856,000 immigrants moved to New York City in the 1980s, and 563,000 legal immigrants arrived between 1990 and 1994, an average 113,000 per year.

The number one source of immigrants to New York City was the Caribbean. The Dominican Republic alone accounted for 20 percent of New York City immigrant arrivals in the 1990s, followed by Europe--the ex-USSR accounted for 12 percent of 1990s arrivals--and China, which accounted for 11 percent of 1990s arrivals.

The immigrant and second generation share of the city's population is growing. In 1990, 29 percent of the women in New York City were foreign born, but they accounted for 43 percent of the babies born in the city.

New York Mayor Giuliani noted approvingly that increased immigrant diversity was planting the seeds for more immigration.

Education. The new immigration law requires foreign students admitted to the US without their parents under F-visas to study in the US to pay the "full cost" of K-12 education, effective November 30, 1996. In some cases, foreign students apply for F-visas to attend private US schools and then, after their arrival, they enroll in public schools. Under the US Supreme Court Plyler vs Doe ruling that requires states to educate all children regardless of legal status, K-12 schools have been enrolling such children.

Over 400,000 legal immigrant students received federal educational assistance in 1993, mostly in Pell grants that averaged $1,600 each or $660 million. About four million US citizens received $6.2 billion in Pell grants in 1993.


Carey Goldberg, "Hispanic Households Struggle as Poorest of U.S. Poor," New York Times, January 30, 1997. Robert Pear, "G.O.P. Governors Seek to Restore Immigrant Aid," New York Times, January 25, 1997. Barbara Vobejda, "States Seek Clarification on Welfare," Washington Post, January 24, 1997. Louis Freedberg, "In New York City, A Different View On Immigration," San Francisco Chronicle, January 6, 1997.