Research Paper

Immigrants, Welfare Reform, and the U.S. Safety Net
Marianne Bitler and Hilary W. Hoynes (Affiliate in Economics)

Reductions in eligibility requirements have significantly impacted access to safety net programs for immigrants. Research Affiliates investigate these policy changes to assess how reductions have affected the success of immigrants in escaping poverty.


Beginning with the 1996 federal welfare reform law many of the central safety net programs in the U.S. eliminated eligibility for legal immigrants, who had been previously eligible on the same terms as citizens. These dramatic cutbacks affected eligibility not only for cash welfare assistance for families with children, but also for food stamps, Medicaid, SCHIP, and SSI. Research Affiliates comprehensively examine the status of the U.S. safety net for immigrants and their family members. They document the policy changes that affected immigrant eligibility for these programs and use the CPS for 1995-2010 to analyze trends in program participation, income, and poverty among immigrants (and natives). Additionally, these researchers pay particular attention to the recent period and examine how immigrants and their children are faring in the “Great Recession” with an eye toward revealing how these policy changes have affected the success of the safety net in aiding this population.