October 28, 2016
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Report Explains Effects Of Immigration On WIC

 WASHINGTON - Children of immigrants are the fastest growing population in the United States. In 1990, 13 percent of all U.S. children ages 0 to 18 had at least one immigrant parent; by 2006, that figure had risen to 23 percent. Due to a rise in immigration flows during the 1990s, a growing number of native-born children in the United States have immigrant parents. The number of native-born children of immigrants increased from 9.6 million in 1994 to 14.4 million in 2006. Native-born children accounted for the majority (81 percent) of children with immigrant parents in 2006. In 2006, children that were themselves immigrants represented 4.4 percent of all U.S. children, similar to their share in 1994, 4.1 percent. Less than half (48 percent) of foreign-born children were unauthorized immigrants—living in the country without the legal documentation to do so— up from 37 percent in 1994. In 2006, unauthorized immigrant children represented a small share of U.S. children, 2.1 percent.

Compared with native-born families, immigrant families are more likely to be poor and thus income-eligible for means-tested public assistance programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). However, noncitizens—foreign-born persons who are not U.S. citizens by naturalization, face restrictions on eligibility for these programs.3 Unauthorized and temporary immigrants are in general ineligible for major federal benefit programs and legal immigrants may also face eligibility restrictions (Fix and Passel 2002).4 Further, fears and misconceptions about these programs prevent some immigrant families from applying on behalf of eligible U.S. citizen children (Fix and Passel 2002; Henderson, Capps, and Finegold 2008).

Two of the largest federal food assistance programs, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) have no eligibility restrictions for either unauthorized or authorized immigrants. These two programs experienced rising participation from the mid-1990s to 2006. With the co-occurring rise in immigrant populations, one question is whether increases in WIC and NSLP participation are due to increased usage by immigrants, particularly whether this use has occurred most for unauthorized immigrants who do not have access to many other public benefits. The extent to which immigrants and children of immigrants are using these programs is currently unknown and no national data have been available to assess their contribution to the growth in participation in WIC and NSLP.

To fill this knowledge gap, this report seeks to assess the extent to which immigrant children and native-born children of immigrant parents are eligible for and participating in the WIC and NSLP programs. First, we examine trends in participation and eligibility in WIC and NSLP by nativity and legal status (see Figure ES-1).5 Using data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), augmented by the TRIM3 micro-simulation model, this study is the first to estimate eligibility for and participation in the WIC and NSLP programs by nativity and immigrant legal status. TRIM3 assigns legal status to immigrants in the CPS, and these assignments form the basis for the estimates used in this study. Second, we use demographic decomposition to examine the contribution of changes in take-up rates (numbers of participants divided by eligible children), changes in the number of persons eligible, and changes in the demographic composition of mothers and children (e.g., nativity and legal status) on changes in program participation over time.6 Lastly, we estimate the relationship between nativity and legal status and program take-up rates over time using multivariate regression models. We also examine the role of state immigrant population trends in predicting take-up of WIC and NSLP. Specifically, we look at traditional immigrant-receiving states (e.g., California and Florida), states with rapidly-growing immigrant populations (e.g., Arizona and North Carolina), and states with slower-growing immigrant populations (e.g., Ohio and Louisiana).



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