Food Stamp Receipt by Families With Noncitizen Household Heads in Rural Texas Counties

Year: 2002

Research Center: Southern Rural Development Center, Mississippi State University

Investigator: White, Steve, Xiuhong You, Steve H. Murdock, and Tami Swenson

Institution: Texas A&M University

Project Contact:
Steve White, Assistant Research Scientist
Texas A&M University
Department of Rural Sociology
College Station, TX 77843-2125
Phone: 979-845-8528


The 1996 welfare reform legislation eliminated the eligibility of most legal immigrants to receive food stamps, although it did make exceptions based on a legal immigrant’s refugee status, work history, or U.S. veteran status. Subsequent legislation in 1997 allowed legal immigrants who were disabled, elderly, or children living in the United States in August 1996 to regain eligibility for the Food Stamp Program (FSP). More recently, the 2002 Farm Act restored food stamp eligibility to legal noncitizens who have lived in the United States continuously for at least 5 years or who are children or disabled, regardless of how long they have lived in the United States.

In 2000, noncitizens made up almost 10 percent of the population in Texas. Noncitizens were more than twice as likely as citizens to live in poor households. Although noncitizens in Texas are concentrated in metropolitan areas, about 5 percent of people in nonmetropolitan counties are noncitizens. Because of the large noncitizen population in Texas, the elimination of the eligibility of most noncitizens to receive food stamps would be expected to have a large impact on the State’s FSP caseload. This study examined the decline in the number of households in Texas headed by a noncitizen that participated in the FSP between 1995 and 2001 and the factors that contribute to the decline. It also compared the decline in the noncitizen FSP caseload in metropolitan counties with the decline in nonmetropolitan counties.

The study found that the number of FSP households in Texas declined 45 percent between 1995 and 2001, while the number of FSP households headed by a noncitizen declined 72 percent. The proportion of elderly household heads among noncitizen FSP households increased from 10 percent in 1995 to almost 25 percent in 2001, a trend that is consistent with the restoration of FSP eligibility to elderly noncitizens.

The authors used monthly FSP administrative caseload data to examine the factors associated with the decline in the noncitizen FSP caseload. While the eligibility restrictions contribute to much of the decline, the authors find that other factors, such as demographic characteristics and program changes, also contribute to the decline. Noncitizen FSP households are less likely to leave the program when the household is larger, and when the head is older, female, and has low levels of education and income. The study results indicate that these demographic characteristics have a slightly stronger effect on citizen FSP households than on noncitizen FSP households. Noncitizen FSP households that live in a nonmetropolitan county are less likely to leave the FSP than those that live in metropolitan counties, and metropolitan status has a stronger effect on noncitizen FSP households than it does on citizen FSP households. The authors also examined whether the frequency with which households must recertify their eligibility for the FSP has a differential effect on noncitizen FSP households. Regardless of citizenship status, the more frequently FSP households must recertify eligibility, the more likely they are to exit the program. However, the effect of a more frequent recertification policy is stronger on citizen FSP households than on noncitizen FSP households.

The study results indicate that restrictions placed on FSP eligibility of noncitizens are responsible for a large share of the decline in their use of food stamps, but that other factors, such as increasing income, also contributed to the decline. This finding implies that noncitizens respond to changes in economic conditions in ways similar to citizens. One notable difference is that residence in a nonmetropolitan county reduces the probability that a noncitizen FSP household leaves the program by more than it reduces the probability that a citizen FSP household leaves the program. This suggests that research focus on whether county-level program administration or economic conditions have different effects on citizen and noncitizen FSP households.