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Welfare Reform Hurting the Children of Legal Immigrants

August 24, 2016
Plain English Version
Newly naturalized Americans. Photo credit: LM OTERO/AP

Newly naturalized Americans. Photo credit: LM OTERO/AP

In America, it does matter where you live. For example, some states have chosen not to use the Medicaid part of the Affordable Care Act program. It is fair to think lower income people in those states get poorer health care.

The states that refuse Medicaid tend to be in the South and the Midwest. These states also are less likely to offer other supports, such as food stamps, to immigrants.

There is another other big program for lower income people. It is the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF replaced the old welfare program.  It is now twenty years old.

TANF has many rules. Immigrants (legal permanent residents) were not eligible for the program for the first five years they were in the U.S.

TANF gave the states leeway in how they would support poor families. They allowed the states to use their own money for the immigrants. About half the states do so.

After twenty years, the TANF program gets mixed reviews.

One study of TANF looked at the children of low-income legal immigrants. It found that children in the states that offered aid had higher high school graduation rates.

That study looked at children who were foreign-born.

Another study looked at all the children of immigrants. What are the results of the study? It did not matter if the children were foreign born or the children of immigrants. If the state did not support TANF for immigrants’ graduation rates were lower.


Scientists suggest some reasons why this happens. They say poorer families who do not get help have to work longer hours. Many need their children to help make financial ends meet. They also point to a bigger potential reason. The children of immigrants who have not received help may have a negative image of themselves. They may have come to believe that they are not welcome in this country.

The impact of not finishing high school can last a lifetime. Economy security and stability will be difficult to reach. It may be more difficult to establish community linkages.

Source: The Washington Post August 22, 2016

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