Timothy Pratt, Las Vegas Sun, October 27, 2009
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.
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.
Stagliano [Gary Stagliano, deputy administrator of Nevada’s Welfare and Supportive Services Division] said this increase may show how the loss of one or two jobs has dropped many families from the middle class in recent months. Many are applying for welfare benefits for the first time. And contrary to historical patterns, many don’t need training to obtain a new job.
Batson said Hispanic immigrants in particular “place a cultural importance on work,” adding, “There is a predisposition that work is important, and they don’t tend to stay out of work for a long time.”