Tag: welfare

President Trump’s DHS Sides with Cato on How to Measure Immigrant Welfare Use

The federal government released the final version of the public charge rule this week.  My colleague David Bier covered it extensively while some of our other Cato research on immigrant welfare use and how to reduce it was also prominently featured.  Unexpectedly, the published public choice rule contained a gem that seems to settle a long-running methodological disagreement between Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and myself on how best to measure immigrant use of welfare.

First, some background.  Cato has published two studies of immigrant welfare use since 2013.  Cato published the first such paper in 2013 that was written by Professor Leighton Ku, Director of the Center for Health Policy Research, and Brian Bruen, Lead Research Scientist & Lecturer in George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services, Department of Health Policy.  Their paper found that:

[L]ow-income non-citizen immigrants, including adults and children, are generally less likely to receive public benefits than those who are native-born. Moreover, when non-citizen immigrants receive benefits, the value of benefits they receive is usually lower than the value of benefits received by those born in the United States. The combination of lower average utilization and smaller average benefits indicates that the overall cost of public benefits is substantially less for low-income non-citizen immigrants than for comparable native-born adults and children.

Later in 2013, my former colleague Sophie Cole and I wrote another paper on how Congress could build a more effective wall around the welfare state by denying all benefits to non-citizens.  That paper relied on some of the original empirical research by Ku and Bruen.  Our ideas and others were eventually incorporated into an excellent bill introduced by Representative Grothman (R-WI) in 2018.    

Last year, we published another paper that updated Ku and Bruen’s work with some minor changes.  We expanded their analysis to the rest of the welfare state and presented findings that removed the controls from their first study.  We found that “[o]verall, immigrants are less likely to consume welfare benefits and, when they do, they generally consume a lower dollar value of benefits than native-born Americans.”

Each time we’ve published these papers, Steven Camarota or others have criticized them in print.  I’ve also criticized their work when they publish their immigrant welfare cost estimates.  Here are just some of the exchanges.  The most substantive outstanding methodological disagreement that remains between us was whether to count the welfare benefits used by individuals only or to include the welfare consumed by anybody in an immigrant-headed household too. 

We’ve long thought that counting individual-level welfare consumption was the best method as welfare consumed by native-born American spouses and children is not welfare consumed by immigrants.  Controlling for the unit receiving the welfare benefit is required to make apples-to-apples comparisons between native and immigrant welfare use.  Since households vary in size and many contain immigrants living with natives, looking at individuals is the best way to control for that.  Furthermore, a person’s eligibility for welfare and for determining the value of most welfare programs depends upon the applicant’s individual circumstances.

Camarota and CIS have long argued that the welfare consumed by an immigrant-headed household is the appropriate measure, even if that includes welfare consumed by some native-born spouses and children.  Camarota argues that some of that welfare spending only occurred because of the immigrant being present here.  This methodological choice matters quite a bit in the final analysis, with household measures reporting a higher welfare use rate and dollar value of consumed benefits while individual-level assessments generally find lower levels of benefit consumption.

The new public charge rule produced by President Trump’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sides with Cato on this dispute for the purposes of estimating future immigrant welfare use and for tallying past usage.  Here is just one example of what DHS wrote:

 

This final rule also clarifies that DHS will only consider public benefits received

directly by the alien for the alien’s own benefit, or where the alien is a listed beneficiary

of the public benefit. DHS will not consider public benefits received on behalf of

another. DHS also will not attribute receipt of a public benefit by one or more members

of the alien’s household to the alien unless the alien is also a listed beneficiary of the

public benefit.

 

This isn’t a surprise as academics measure welfare use on the individual level and DHS counts welfare use by looking at individual’s immigration statuses, not by the fanciful “immigrant-headed” method which is probably statistically meaningless.  However, it is nice to have President Trump’s DHS side with Cato’s methodological choices in evaluating immigrant welfare use.  I look forward to CIS changing its methods in future iterations of its immigrant welfare research.    

 

 

 

 

Illegal Immigrants – and Other Non-Citizens – Should Not Receive Government Healthcare

Last week during one of their debates, all Democratic primary candidates supported government health care for illegal immigrants. This type of position is extremely damaging politically and, if enacted, would unnecessarily burden taxpayers for likely zero improvements in health outcomes. I expect the eventual Democratic candidate for president to not support this type of proposal, but it should be nipped in the bud.

After the debate, Democratic candidate Julian Castro argued that extending government health care to illegal immigrants would not be a big deal. “[W]e already pay for the health care of undocumented immigrants,” Castro said. “It’s called the emergency room. People show up in the emergency room and they get care, as they should.” It is true that some illegal immigrants use emergency room services thanks to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act and to Emergency Medicaid, but Castro leaned heavily into a stereotype often used by nativists. According to a paper published in the journal Health Affairs, illegal immigrants between the ages of 18-64 consumed about $1.1 billion in government healthcare benefits in 2006 – about 0.13 percent of the approximately $867 billion in government healthcare expenditures that year. That’s a fraction of the cost that would be imposed on American taxpayers by extending nationalized health care to all illegal immigrants. So, with all due respect to Mr. Castro, we do not already pay for their health care just because some illegal immigrants visit emergency rooms at government expense.      

One of the reasons why immigrants individually consume so much less welfare than native-born Americans is that many of them do not have legal access to these benefits. Cato scholars have proposed making these welfare restrictions even stricter to deny benefits to all non-citizens and to not count work credit toward entitlements until immigrants are naturalized citizens – what the late Bill Niskanen called “build a wall around the welfare state, not around the country.”

Many American voters are concerned about immigrant consumption of welfare benefits. In a 2017 poll, 28 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that “Immigration detracts from our character and weakens the United States because it puts too many burdens on government services, causes language barriers, and creates housing problems [emphasis added].” That level of concern exists under current laws that restrict non-citizen access to benefits and even chill eligible non-citizen participation. I’d expect that poll result to worsen if new immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, were put on government health care program.

Extending government health care to illegal immigrants and other new immigrants would probably not improve healthcare outcomes for immigrants. According to the wonderful The Integration of Immigrants into American Society report published by the National Academies of Sciences, immigrants already have better infant, child, and adult health outcomes than native-born Americans, while also having less access to welfare benefits like Medicaid. Immigrants also live about 3.4 years longer than native-born Americans do. Illegal Mexican immigrants had an average of 1.6 fewer physician visits per year compared to native-born Americans of Mexican descent. Other illegal Hispanic immigrants made an average of 2.1 fewer visits to doctors per year than their native-born counterparts.  Illegal immigrants are about half as likely to have chronic healthcare problems than native-born Americans. Overall per capita health care spending was 55 percent lower for immigrants than for native-born Americans. 

Immigrants also lower the cost of other portions of the health care system. In 2014, immigrants paid 12.6 percent of all premiums to private health insurers but accounted for only 9.1 percent of all insurer expenditures. Immigrants’ annual premiums exceeded their health care expenditures by $1,123 per enrollee, for a total of $24.7 billion. That offset the deficit of $163 per native-born enrollee. The immigrant net-subsidy persisted even after ten years of residence in the United States. 

From 2002-2009, immigrants subsidized Medicare as they made 14.7 percent of contributions but only consumed 7.9 percent of expenditures, for a $13.8 billion annual surplus. By comparison, native-born Americans consumed $30.9 billion more in Medicare than they contributed annually. Among Medicare enrollees, average expenditures were $1,465 lower for immigrants than for native-born Americans, for a difference of $3,923 to $5,388. From 2000 to 2011, illegal immigrants contributed $2.2 to $3.8 billion more than they withdrew annually in Medicare benefits (a total surplus of $35.1 billion). If illegal immigrants had neither contributed to nor withdrawn from the Medicare Trust Fund during those 11 years, it would become insolvent 1 year earlier than currently predicted – in 2029 instead of 2030.

American taxpayers should not have to pay for the health care costs of other Americans, let alone for non-citizens. For those reading this post who are very concerned about the well-being of immigrants, think of what would happen to public support for legal immigration if welfare benefits were extended in this way.  Immigrants come here primarily for economic opportunity, not for government health insurance. They tend to be healthier than native-born Americans and lower the price of health care for others as a result – but the point would likely change if the laws were different. Let’s not build public support for reducing legal immigration, or increase reluctance to expand it, by extending government health care, at enormous public cost, to people who don’t need it.

Center for Immigration Studies Overstates Immigrant, Non-Citizen, and Native Welfare Use

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) just released a new report that purports to show that 63 percent of non-citizen households are on welfare compared to 35 percent of native-born households in 2014.  The purpose of this report was to justify the president’s new public charge rule.  For years, CIS and I have debated this topic and this blog is yet another installment.  Please follow these links to read the previous installments.

There are a few issues with the CIS report and an unsound methodological choice that they made that results in inflating the welfare use rates for immigrants and natives.  I’m just going to make two points below.

First, the welfare use rate reported by CIS is much higher than the welfare use rates estimated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) even though they both relied on the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).  DHS did look at 2013 and CIS looked at 2014, but one year shouldn’t make much of a difference as no new big welfare laws were passed then.  The biggest difference between the DHS and CIS analysis is that CIS used households as a unit of analysis and DHS used individuals (more on this below).  Table 1 shows the differences.  CIS reports much higher welfare use for natives, the foreign-born, and non-citizens for every program.  Table 2 shows just how much higher CIS’ estimates are for every welfare program relative to DHS’ estimates.  Relative to DHS’ estimates, CIS estimates that native-born welfare use rates are an average of 95 percent higher, foreign-born use rates are an average of 173 percent higher, and non-citizen use rates are an average of 208 percent higher. 

 

Table 1

Estimated Welfare Use Rates by the Organization that Conducted the Analysis

 

Department of Homeland Security (2013)

Center for Immigration Studies (2014)

Benefit Program

Natives

Foreign Born

Non-Citizens

Natives

Foreign Born

Non-Citizens

Cash or non-cash

20.9

20.9

22.6

30.4

49.5

57.7

Cash benefits

3.4

3.7

1.8

7.7

9.6

6.3

SSI

2.4

3.2

1.3

6.3

8.2

4.5

TANF

0.8

0.3

0.4

1.3

1.1

1.4

GA

0.3

0.2

0.2

NA

NA

NA

Non-cash benefits

20.4

20.4

22.3

NA

NA

NA

Medicaid

16.1

15.1

15.5

23.3

41.9

49.9

SNAP

11.6

8.7

9.1

15.2

18.4

23

Housing Vouchers

1.6

1.7

1.4

4.7

5.1

3.9

Rent subsidy

3.9

4.8

4.3

NA

NA

NA

Sources: Center for Immigration Studies, Table 1; Department of Homeland Security, Table 11.

 

Table 2

Percentage Difference Between CIS and DHS Welfare Use Rate Estimates

Benefit Program

Natives

Foreign Born

Non-Citizens

Cash or non-cash

45%

137%

155%

Cash benefits

126%

159%

250%

SSI

163%

156%

246%

TANF

63%

267%

250%

GA

NA

NA

NA

Non-cash benefits

NA

NA

NA

Medicaid

45%

177%

222%

SNAP

31%

111%

153%

Housing Vouchers

194%

200%

179%

Rent subsidy

NA

NA

NA

 Sources: Center for Immigration Studies, Table 1; Department of Homeland Security, Table 11; author’s calculations.

 

Second, CIS chose to use a head of household unit of analysis rather than an individual unit of analysis.  This means that they designated some households as headed by non-citizens and others as headed by natives based on SIPP responses.  Thus, CIS’ analysis counts many native-born American children, American citizen spouses in immigrant households, and doesn’t control for the size of the households.  CIS does show welfare household use rates without non-citizens in them, but the entire household unit of analysis is a flawed way to look at welfare use rates.  The DHS sided with Cato on this long-standing issue as it measured individual welfare use rates and didn’t bother with an antiquated head of household measure.  The only close approximations to a household or family-level analysis that DHS conducted were in Tables 16 and 17 of its report, but it only compared citizens to non-citizens.  Tables 16 and 17 unsurprisingly find that people with more children have higher welfare use rates.

DHS isn’t the only organization to agree that the individual is the proper unit of analysis.  According to the massive report on the economic and fiscal consequences of immigration published National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the individual is the proper unit of analysis for fiscal cost analysis.  Since welfare use rates are a subset of fiscal cost analyses, it makes sense to use the individual rather than the household.  The NAS authors wrote:

 

households are not stable over time and because the costs and benefits originating in mixed households often need to be divided between native-born and foreign-born members—as opposed to having to ascribe them exclusively to one group or the other—the individual unit of analysis is more flexible and empirically feasible for dynamic analyses (338).

 

Even in static analyses, the NAS argues that the problem of how “to define an immigrant household (339)” breaks in favor of an individual unit of analysis to at least maintain consistency between the dynamic and static methods.  This is a big change from the NAS’ previous study in 1997 that argued for households as the unit of analysis.

The DHS and NAS both agree with Cato scholars that the individual is the proper unit of analysis in a welfare cost analysis by nativity.  CIS is on the other side of that issue.  I am not making an appeal to authority, but CIS should have to make a better case for why it persists in using the household level of analysis.

CIS’ analysis is not compelling.  A competing analysis of the same data by DHS, using the individual unit of analysis that Cato scholars have recommended, found that all immigrants have a welfare use rate identical to natives and that non-citizens only have a slightly higher usage rate. 

Cato scholars are very concerned with immigrant welfare use, which is why we’ve authored a study on how to eliminate non-citizen welfare use that is now in the form of legislation introduced by Representative Grothman (R-WI).  His bill would do more to save taxpayer dollars and reduce welfare use among immigrants than any refined public charge rule.  Although CIS and I do not agree on many of the facts regarding immigrant welfare use, we should be able to agree that approaches like those of Representative Grothman are better than a revised public charge rule. 

 

Immigrants and Their Children Use Less Welfare than Third-and-Higher Generation Americans

A consistent criticism of Cato’s immigration-welfare research is that we compare the welfare consumption of all immigrants to all natives. Our method means that we consider the U.S.-born children of immigrants as natives, even when they reside in a household with foreign-born parents. Our critics contend that this undercounts immigrant welfare consumption because those children would not exist here without the immigrants coming in the first place. Thus, they claim, the welfare consumption of the U.S.-born children of immigrants should be combined with that of their immigrant parents in order to produce an accurate total assessment of immigrant welfare costs.

However, other researchers who combine first and second generation welfare-use do not combine these generations correctly. They use the Current Population Survey (CPS) data to measure immigrant household welfare use rates and benefit levels that includes the U.S.-born children of immigrants who live in the household, but they exclude tens of millions of U.S.-born children of immigrants who do not live in their parent’s households. Thus, counting only the children in the immigrant households produces a limited and biased estimate of first and second-generation welfare costs because the vast bulk of means-tested welfare targets households with children. If the second-generation must be included at all, a better approach would be to include second-generation adults as well.

Robert VerBruggen at National Review convinced us to estimate the welfare consumption levels and use rates for immigrants and their children of all ages (the first and second generations) relative to Americans in the third-and-higher generations in 2016. We initially intended to look only at immigrants who arrived in 1968 or later, which is the year that the Immigration Act of 1965 went into effect, but we were unable to limit the CPS sample and their children so precisely. We were also unable to estimate the welfare use rates or benefit levels for Medicaid or Medicare because of myriad data limitations. Figure 1 shows the result of the welfare use rates multiplied by the benefit levels for each generational group for four welfare and entitlement programs. This produces an average per capita welfare cost for each group for each program that combines adults and children.

Immigrant Welfare Consumption: A Response to Richwine

Jason Richwine recently published a short criticism of a new brief that Robert Orr and I wrote about immigrant and native benefit levels and use rates for means-tested welfare and entitlement programs.  This is another in a long series of blog post responses between those who support different methods for measuring native and immigrant welfare consumption so the response is wonky and does not revolve around a central question.  The title of Richwine’s criticism is “Obfuscating the Immigrant-Welfare Debate.”  Below, Richwine’s comments will be in quotes and my responses will follow.

“A few years ago I noted that ‘the amnesty movement has turned the political numbers game into an art form, systematically obscuring the trade-offs inherent in immigration policy.’ The movement has reached new heights of obfuscation with Alex Nowrasteh and Robert Orr’s Cato Institute study, ‘Immigration and the Welfare State.’”

Richwine hid half of our title: “Immigration and the Welfare State: Immigrant and Native Use Rates and Benefit Levels for Means-Tested Welfare and Entitlement Programs.”  Our entire title is important to defusing many of Richwine’s other complaints later in his piece.  The charge of obfuscation is serious but cutting off three-quarters of the words in our title does not enhance clarity.

“The Nowrasteh-Orr study says that’s all wrong. In fact, immigrants receive 39 percent less in welfare benefits than natives on a per capita basis. How is this possible? By including Social Security and Medicare as ‘welfare,’ for starters.”

As the title of our brief states, we included entitlement programs as part of the welfare state.  As we further explained in the first two sentences in our brief, we included them because they accounted for about 65 percent of all federal benefits outlays in 2016.  It is impossible to discuss the welfare state or the impact that immigrants have on it without including entitlement programs because they comprise its largest share.

Food Stamp Reform in 2018?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is one of the costliest welfare programs at about $70 billion a year. Not only is it costly, but a large share of the benefits are not used as intended.

Recipients are supposed to use SNAP or food stamp benefits to “make healthy food choices” and “obtain a more nutritious diet.” But it turns out that about $15 billion of food stamp spending goes for junk food, such as candy and cola. Many recipients are not making the nutritious choices the government intends.

The Trump administration is expected to pursue welfare reforms next year, and trimming food stamp benefits is one priority. The Washington Post says that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

is considering proposals to let states impose new restrictions on purchases of soda and candy and require SNAP candidates to apply in person, according to the Secretaries Innovation Group (SIG), which represents state social service secretaries from 20 Republican administrations. The agency is also considering a proposal to allow states to reduce payments to some groups of people, including undocumented immigrants’ citizen children.

… In the past, the USDA has rejected requests from states to take some of the actions SIG has suggested, particularly limiting the types of foods that people can buy with food stamps.

… One of the more controversial proposals involves a recommendation that the USDA ban “harmful” foods, such as soda and candy, from being purchased with food stamps. SIG also proposes that the program allow the purchase of only specific, “approved” foods, similar to what the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program does.

“The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is intended to subsidize nutrition for needy families,” reads SIG’s proposal, which was submitted to the USDA and Republican congressional leadership, and obtained by The Post. “However, too many recipients are utilizing their benefit to purchase items that are not only void of nutrition, they are damaging to their health.”

The article says “SNAP is America’s largest anti-hunger program,” but the main food-related health problem for low-income households today is not hunger, but obesity. Americans with low incomes are more obese than people with high incomes, on average. In general, people with low incomes are not suffering from too little food, but from too much of the wrong kinds of food.

So ending SNAP’s subsidies for junk food would be a pro-nutrition way to cut demand for the program and reduce taxpayer costs. Federal reforms to allow states to restrict benefits would move in the right direction. If food stamps could be only used for items such as fruits and vegetables, it is possible that fewer people would use the program and costs would fall.

For more on federal food subsidies, see here.

The RAISE Act Would Hurt U.S. Taxpayers

Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation recently argued that the RAISE Act, a bill introduced by Senators Cotton (R-AR) and Perdue (R-GA), would save taxpayers billions by reducing lower-skilled immigration.  Below I will argue that the RAISE Act does no such thing mainly because it does not actually increase skilled immigration, does not much alter the current education level of immigrants in the United States, and would result in removing at least 500,000 H-1B visas within a year of passage.  Using the National Academy of Science (NAS) fiscal estimates, the RAISE Act is more likely to increase deficits over the next 75 years than to decrease them.

Rector makes two main claims in his post.  The first is that “[b]ased on the National Academy of Sciences’ estimates, the average low-skill immigrant (with a high school degree or less) who enters the country imposes a net present value on taxpayers of negative $142,000.”  A fiscal net present value (NPV) means that each immigrant in this education range would have to deposit $142,000 upon arrival that would earn 3 percent compounded annual interest to cover the full cost of social services that he or she will be expected to consume over the next 75 years.  The second claim is that the RAISE Act could save taxpayers at least $1 trillion by cutting the flow of immigrants with a high school degree or less.  The sections below will analyze these claims by using the National Academy of Sciences’ estimates and information from the Current Population Survey of the U.S. Census (CPS).

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