Program Usage and Poverty Among Refugees in the South

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Abstract In 1996, after two decades of increasing use of cash and non-cash public assistance programs by immigrant households (Borjas and Hilton, 1996), the Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act drastically altered the availability of federal public assistance to legal immigrants but not to refugees (Fix and Tumlin, 1997). Refugees were given a five-year exemption from Food Stamps and TANF rules, and a seven year exemption from Medicaid rules that deny these benefits to other legal immigrants. While the distinction between immigrant legal status such as refugee, legal permanent resident, and non-legal immigrant is now mandatory by current Food Stamp Program, TANF, and Medicaid regulations, past research rarely made such distinctions. Our research specifically focuses upon safety net program usage of refugees, relative to native citizens and other immigrants. The preliminary work has lead to four additional directions. The first is to further examine the relationship between local labor market conditions and refugee usage of Food Stamps and to extend this analysis to the two other programs. We hypothesize that refugees are more likely to be concentrated in industries sensitive to the business cycle which leads to their apparent sensitivity to the business cycle. We also hypothesize that concentration may manifest itself differently on a regional level because of differences in the mix of industries across regions. We anticipate that the sensitivity to cyclic fluctuations will be lower in the South than the North East and North Central Regions. The second direction is to compare the determinants of program usage for refugees across the three major programs. It is hypothesized that Northern and North Central states will have fewer barriers to participation, particularly in the TANF/AFDC programs than states in the South Eastern and South Central regions. These southern states have fewer resources to expend on programs, and have historically fewer immigrants and refugees. Third, we propose to estimate a series of multinomial models of program participation. Fourth, our initial work suggested that refugees transition off these programs much more quickly that other immigrants. While transition off programs is important, it is important to establish if participation in these programs alleviates poverty and if subsequent movement of program is co-incident with movement out of poverty. Direct examination of poverty levels within the immigrant and refugee population has never been undertaken. These hypothesis have important policy impacts in how the refugee population is treated within the federal safety net programs, and how refugee centers and support infrastructure is located within the United States. 1
Effective start/end date1/1/0412/15/04


  • Department of Health and Human Services


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