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The 1996 welfare reform law substantially changed the circumstances under which noncitizens could receive welfare benefits. Although the new rules are complex, the most important provision is that noncitizens who arrive in the United States after 1996 are subject to a five year ban on most welfare benefits. The major exception is that noncitizens can receive emergency services. At the end of five years, noncitizens can receive TANF, Medicaid, and a few other benefits at the discretion of the state in which they reside. However, the ban continues on food stamps and the Supplemental Security Income program until the immigrant works for 10 years or becomes an American citizen. In addition, some immigrants who entered the U.S. before 1996 continue to be eligible for Supplemental Security Income and food stamps. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that these changes have resulted in a very substantial reduction in receipt of welfare benefits by noncitizens. Research also suggests that immigrant children have experienced an increased incidence of difficulty in obtaining the resources to purchase nutritionally adequate food.
Summary of Proposal
Federal policy should strive to find a balance between the needs of destitute noncitizens and the need to ensure that welfare policy neither attracts noncitizens to the U.S. to take advantage of welfare programs nor induces welfare dependency among noncitizens who do receive welfare benefits. Thus, the Administration supports continuation of the five-year ban on welfare benefits for noncitizens entering the country after 1996 and proposes to align food stamps with TANF and Medicaid by allowing legal immigrants to receive food stamps five years after entry. This policy helps ensure adequate nutrition among children and other vulnerable immigrant groups, while continuing to require new entrants to support themselves and their families through work.