A new report released today by the Oregon Center for Public Policy describes how Oregon could change its food stamp program rules to provide more food assistance to legal immigrant families at no cost to the State. The change in program rules would help make up for the fact that many legal immigrants are not eligible for food stamp benefits, dramatically reducing the assistance eligible members of their families can receive.
All of the additional food stamps would be paid for by the federal government. “The Department of Human Services just needs to change the way it calculates benefits for these families, and the federal government will pick up the tab,” said Michael Leachman, author of the report.
In an effort to increase the limited benefits allowed to legal immigrant families, the US Department of Agriculture allows states to exempt any income earned by ineligible household members when calculating the benefits of eligible household members. Four states – California, Massachusetts, Michigan, and South Dakota – have written administrative rules taking advantage of this option. Oregon has not.
“Unfortunately, DHS is dragging its feet on making this change,” said Senator Frank Shields, “and that’s why I introduced Senate Bill 797 to require them to do it. Every day we are turning down federal money that could be helping these families.”
In 1996, most low-income legal immigrants and many refugees lost their eligibility for food stamps as part of welfare reform. Two years later, Congress restored eligibility to a portion of those who had been cut off. Today, most elderly, disabled, or child immigrants who were living in the United States when the original welfare reform law passed are eligible, but most other immigrants are not.
“This change would partially make up for the loss in benefits immigrant families experienced as a result of welfare reform,” said Ramon Ramirez of CAUSA, Oregon’s immigrant rights coalition. “The State should not be standing in the way of help for these families.”
By making this change, Oregon would provide more support to those immigrant families with at least one member who is eligible. The change would not fully restore benefits to those immigrants and refugees who remain ineligible for food stamps.
The OCPP report, entitled “Restoring Food Stamp Benefits to Immigrants and Refugees in Oregon,” also estimated the amount of State funding necessary to restore fully food stamp benefits to legal immigrant and refugee families, as nine states have already done. Senator Shields intends to amend Senate Bill 797 to allocate funds for this purpose. “These are taxpaying families working hard to raise their children,” said Senator Shields. “They ought to be eligible for the same help in difficult times as any Oregon family.”
The Oregon Center for Public Policy is a non-profit, non-partisan research institute in Silverton that explores budget, tax, and public policy issues important to low and moderate income Oregonians, the majority of Oregonians.