Ineligible Parents, Eligible Children: Food Stamps Receipt, Allotments, and Food Insecurity Among Children of Immigrants

Year: 2003

Research Center: The Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago

Investigator: Van Hook, Jennifer, and Kelly Stamper Balistreri

Institution: Bowling Green University

Project Contact:
Jennifer Van Hook
Center for Family & Demographic Research
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH 43403
Phone: 419-372-7166.


The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), known as welfare reform, and its subsequent amendments eliminated welfare as an entitlement for working-age adults and noncitizens while maintaining limited support for poor children regardless of citizenship. This policy changed the treatment of mixed-eligibility-status immigrant households, i.e., households containing both those deemed ineligible for welfare (noncitizens) and those deemed eligible (poor children). Rather than providing full welfare benefits, welfare policy reduces or eliminates welfare benefits for mixed-status households relative to nonimmigrant households whose every member can be eligible. The effects of this new policy depend, in part, on the extent to which a reduction in allotments to mixed-status households has a negative impact on children. This study also examines the effect of cutbacks on welfare allotments on ""mixed status"" families and whether these changes in Food Stamp Program (FSP) participation and benefits led to higher levels of food insecurity among children of noncitizens.

Prior research has shown that the FSP serves as an important source of food for immigrant families. This study added to earlier work by using a longitudinal data source, the Survey of Program Dynamics (SPD), to follow a cohort of children through multiple years. This study used a national-level sample and controlled for State-level fixed effects in multivariate models of food stamp receipt and food insecurity. The authors used measures of ""unmet need"" for food stamps, based on the extent to which an individual child's predicted participation levels changed since the enactment of welfare reform.

Five specific findings emerged from the analysis. First, household-level food stamp receipt declined steadily between 1993 and 2000 among all nativity/citizenship groups independent of changes and variation in social, demographic, and economic characteristics. In contrast, the decline in food stamp benefits was temporary among children of noncitizens. Second, food insecurity was higher for these children of noncitizens who did not naturalize immediately following welfare reform, but food insecurity levels declined and became more equal across all nativity/citizenship groups by 2001. Third, reductions in FSP benefits rather than reductions in household- level food stamp participation appear to explain the higher food insecurity levels of children of parents who never naturalized. Fourth, reductions in unmet need for both receipt and allotments between 1997 and 2000 appear to explain, in part, the decline in food insecurity for all nativity/citizenship groups. Fifth, the results suggest that children of noncitizens would have lower levels of food insecurity if they were given access to food stamps and allotments equal to those given to children of natives.

The study results suggest that providing food assistance to needy children alone is probably not enough to reduce food insecurity among eligible immigrant children. Food insecurity among the children in the SPD increased due to reductions in FSP participation by mixed-status households despite the fact that most of the children remained eligible. Another policy change could be to provide food assistance to all members of needy households that contain children rather than only to household members who are eligible children.