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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Noncitizen Eligibility for Federal Public Assistance: Policy Overview and Trends


Ruth Ellen Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy

The extent to which residents of the United States who are not U.S. citizens should be eligible for federally funded public aid has been a contentious issue for more than a decade. This issue meets at the intersection of two major policy areas: immigration policy and welfare policy. The eligibility of noncitizens for public assistance programs is based on a complex set of rules that are determined largely by the type of noncitizen in question and the nature of services being offered. Over the past 15 years, Congress has enacted significant changes in U.S. immigration policy and welfare policy. Congress has exercised oversight of revisions made by the 1996 welfare reform law (the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, P.L. 104-193)— including the rules governing noncitizen eligibility for public assistance that it established—and legislation covering programs with major restrictions on noncitizens’ eligibility (e.g., food stamps/SNAP, Medicaid).

This report deals with the four major federal means-tested benefit programs: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant programs, and Medicaid. Laws in place for the past 15 years restrict the eligibility of legal permanent residents (LPRs), refugees, asylees, and other noncitizens for most means-tested public aid. Noncitizens’ eligibility for major federal means-tested benefits largely depends on their immigration status; whether they arrived (or were on a program’s rolls) before August 22, 1996, the enactment date of P.L. 104-193; and how long they have lived and worked in the United States.

LPRs with a substantial work history or military connection are eligible for the full range of programs, as are asylees, refugees, and other humanitarian cases (for at least five to seven years after entry). Other LPRs must meet additional eligibility requirements. For SNAP, they generally must have been legally resident for five years or be children. For SSI benefits, they must have been recipients as of August 22, 1996, or resident as of that date and disabled. Under TANF and SSI, they generally are ineligible for five years after entry and then eligible at state option. States have the option of providing Medicaid to pregnant LPRs and children within the five-year bar. Unauthorized aliens (often referred to as illegal aliens) are not eligible for most federal benefits, regardless of whether they are means tested, with notable exceptions for emergency services.

TANF, SSI, food stamp, and Medicaid recipiency among noncitizens decreased over the 1995- 2005 period, but appears to have inched upwards in 2009. While the 10-year decrease was affected by the statutory changes, the poverty rate of noncitizens has also diminished over the 1995-2005 decade. The poverty rate for noncitizens residing in the United States fell from 27.8% in 1995 to 20.4% in 2005. It has risen to 25.1% in 2009. Noncitizens are disproportionately poorer than native-born residents of the United States.



Date of Report: December 14, 2010
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: RL33809
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Unauthorized Alien Students: Issues and “DREAM Act” Legislation


Andorra Bruno
Specialist in Immigration Policy

Supporters of comprehensive immigration reform have urged the President and Congress to pursue reform legislation. While legislative action on comprehensive reform does not appear likely during the remainder of the 111th Congress, there may be an effort to enact a measure, commonly referred to as the “DREAM Act,” to enable certain unauthorized alien students to legalize their status.

Unauthorized aliens in the United States are able to receive free public education through high school. They may experience difficulty obtaining higher education, however, for several reasons. Among these reasons is a provision enacted in 1996 that prohibits states from granting unauthorized aliens certain postsecondary educational benefits on the basis of state residence, unless equal benefits are made available to all U.S. citizens. This prohibition is commonly understood to apply to the granting of “in-state” residency status for tuition purposes. Unauthorized alien students also are not eligible for federal student financial aid. More broadly, as unauthorized aliens, they are not legally allowed to work and are subject to being removed from the country.

Multiple bills have been introduced in recent Congresses to address the unauthorized student population. Most have proposed a two-prong approach of repealing the 1996 provision and enabling some unauthorized alien students to become U.S. legal permanent residents (LPRs) through an immigration procedure known as cancellation of removal. Bills proposing this type of relief for unauthorized students are commonly referred to as the DREAM Act. While there are other options for dealing with this population, this report deals exclusively with the DREAM Act approach in light of the widespread congressional interest in it.

A number of stand-alone DREAM Act bills have been introduced in the 111
th Congress in the House and the Senate. Some of these bills (H.R. 1751, S. 729, S. 3827), like most DREAM Act bills introduced in prior Congresses, would repeal the 1996 provision and enable eligible unauthorized students to adjust to LPR status through a two-stage process. Other bills (H.R. 6327, S. 3962, S. 3963) would establish a two-stage adjustment of status mechanism for unauthorized students, but would not repeal the 1996 provision. Under all six bills, aliens granted cancellation of removal would be adjusted initially to conditional permanent resident status. To have the condition removed and become full-fledged LPRs, the aliens would need to meet additional requirements.


Date of Report: November 18, 2010
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: RL33863
Price: $29.95

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