More Welfare Going to Parents Here Illegally

Timothy Pratt, Las Vegas Sun, October 27, 2009

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[Jose] Silva has been without a steady job for a year, one of tens of thousands of workers still reeling from the bottom dropping out of the Las Vegas Valley’s construction industry, the region’s second-largest employer after tourism.

If approved for assistance, the Silvas will belong to the fastest-growing category of families in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Bearing the confusing government label of “non-qualified non-citizens,” this category refers to families with parents who are not U.S. citizens and children who are.

Since the recession began in late 2007, the average monthly caseload of these families has grown 96 percent, according to state records. About 4,250 of these families of mixed immigration status were on the program’s rolls in September, making it the second-largest category in TANF, after single-parent households.

It is also the only category in the program where parents apply in their children’s name, as opposed to applying in their own. TANF gives monthly checks to the families based on income and the children’s status as citizens and does not require parents to demonstrate that they are in the United States legally.

No one has studied the phenomenon, but Christie D. Batson, an assistant professor of sociology at UNLV who has researched immigrant families, figures the exploding numbers may have at least two causes. Children of immigrants have long been one of the demographic groups getting the least amount of social services, despite showing great need, Batson said. This is because illegal immigrant parents often don’t know about the benefits, or are afraid they could be deported if they seek them.

“But in the past few years there has been a push to better inform these parents, by social service agencies and nonprofits,” Batson said.

So the numbers could be a result of more immigrant families finding out about social service programs, she said.

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The Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute estimated the unemployment rate among Hispanics in Nevada at 16.4 percent for this year’s second quarter, the most recent period available. The state’s overall unemployment rate was 11.3 percent at the time. It is now 13.3 percent.

In another reflection of the withering economy, the number of households with two parents seeking TANF has also exploded. Enrollment under that category has increased 69 percent since late 2007.

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