The Impact of the Public Charge Rule on Immigrant and Native Welfare Use in the United States
Wise, Andrew S
In August 2019, the Department of Homeland Security issued a new final Public Charge rule overhauling how the federal government evaluates an individual’s admission to the United States. Under prior well-established policy, an individual could be deemed a “public charge” and inadmissible if they were considered likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence through receipt of public cash assistance. The Trump administration significantly expanded the definition of a “public charge” to include individuals receiving government assistance in the form of Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Section 8 housing assistance, and other welfare programs for longer than 12 months over a three-year period. Shortly after the rule was proposed, researchers found a “chilling effect” and drastic decline in noncitizen use of public benefits relative to natives (Capps, Fix, and Batalova 2020). Using the Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey, I evaluate if foreign-born headed households are more likely to be welfare dependent, meaning they derive more than half of their income from public benefits, than their native household counterparts. I also examine if the implementation of the new Public Charge rule resulted in a statistically significant difference in welfare dependence for foreign-born headed households between 2014 and 2020. I find that foreign-born headed households are less likely to be welfare dependent than native headed households, countering the belief that immigrants take advantage of public benefits. In addition, I find that there was a modest decline in welfare dependence for foreign-born households between 2014 and 2020, across all education levels and low education households. This research provides policy makers and researchers with ample evidence that under current welfare policies, immigrants do not utilize public benefits at a higher rate than natives and informs future debate surrounding social safety net reform.
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