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Title: Politics as Usual: Restricting Immigrant Access to Public Assistance After the 1996 Welfare Reform Act Amid COVID-19

Heaven Brown, Beth Whitaker, Department of Political Science, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 9201 University City Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28223

The United States’ federal public health response to COVID-19 has been widely ineffective. The administration’s anti-immigrant agenda has left immigrant communities across the country without safety nets by excluding them from social service programs designed to alleviate the economic burden of COVID-19. Beginning February 21, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds Final Rule made the receipt of public assistance grounds for refusing immigrants legal permanent resident status. Observers are concerned that immigrants will disenroll or forgo needed public assistance during the pandemic for fear of jeopardizing their immigration status. Latinx immigrants are central to the nation’s post-COVID recovery, but this reality is not reflected in recent immigrant policy. These developments must be put into context, not as one-off pieces of legislation, but rather as the most recent example of anti-immigrant policy in a history of immigrant exclusion. On August 22, 1996, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), serving as a turning point in the history of undercutting immigrant access to federal means-tested entitlements, including food stamps, non-emergency Medicaid, and others. This paper provides a literature review on the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, including the (1) influence of anti-immigrant and anti-welfare framing; (2) exclusionary immigrant provisions; and, the (3) consequences, implications, and lessons that can be applied to the present. In reviewing the consequences of exclusionary provisions, I analyze data from the Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service on SNAP participants’ citizenship status. Bringing the literature review on the 1996 Welfare Reform Act to the present, this paper examines the Public Charge Rule. By simultaneously comparing and evaluating these policies, lessons from the past can inform policymakers on the ramifications of passing anti-immigrant legislation.




Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Heaven Brown

Institution: University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Type: Poster

Subject: Political Science

Status: Approved


Time and Location

Session: Poster 10
Date/Time: Wed 1:30pm-2:30pm
Session Number: 6518