RE-WRITING THE RULES
OCTOBER 13, 1997
As part of last year's welfare reform bill, food stamp benefits to legal immigrants was terminated. Rod Minott of KTCS-Seattle reports on Washington States efforts to restore those benefits. Then, Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW-Chicago reports on how legal immigrants in Illinois are coping with the loss of their benefits.
ROD MINOTT: 70-year-old Bonnie Garcia prides herself on being a careful shopper. By necessity, she needs to budget. She relies on $39 a month in food stamps to feed both herself and her husband. Garcia says she has been forced to go on food stamps and other public assistance.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
October 13, 1997
A report on how legal immigrants in Chicago are coping with the loss of their food stamp benefits.
February 4, 1997
The impact of last summer's reforms on state governments and a panel of regional commentators.
October 1, 1996:
The NewsHour looks at how states, who must now devise their own plans will cope.
July 31, 1996:
Three members of Congress discuss the politics between the new welfare reform bill passed this year.
April 14, 1996:
How will the new welfare reform law affect people who receive food stamps?
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Welfare.
Department of Health and Human Resources
BONNIE GARCIA, Food Stamp Recipient: (speaking through interpreter) I cannot find a job here because I am very sick. I have lots of allergies, and I have high blood pressure. And so I feel that food stamps are very important for both of us to have a better life and to sustain our life. We might go hungry if we don't have food stamps.
ROD MINOTT: A former schoolteacher, Garcia immigrated to Seattle from the Philippines four years ago. She and her husband came in search of a better life. The Garcias now receive $787 a month in public assistance, but their peace of mind was threatened last year when Congress cut off food stamps for one million legal immigrants. Part of the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, the food stamp cuts went into effect August 22nd of this year. Bonnie Garcia feared the worst.
BONNIE GARCIA: (speaking through interpreter) I thought I would be forced to go back to the Philippines and be separated from my husband. My husband would stay here because he's a real American citizen, whereas, I am an immigrant. We cannot live together on the kind of money we're receiving without any food stamps.
Anger over cuts in immigrant benefits.
ROD MINOTT: With a legal immigrant population of more than a quarter million, Washington State has deep cultural and economic ties to non-citizens. Located on the Pacific Rim, the state attracts a majority of Asian immigrants. Many come here seeking work in high-tech industries near Seattle, such as Microsoft. In Eastern Washington laborers from Latin nations work the farm fields. Last year Washington ranked 10th among states to which immigrants moved. Thirty-eight thousand of those immigrants have been receiving food stamps.
VELMA VELORIA, Washington House of Representatives: (shouting) Long live the Asian-American people!
ROD MINOTT: Upset at the prospect of losing those food stamps, legal immigrants and their supporters began staging protests. This one was held at the state legislature to pressure politicians into saving welfare benefits.
VELMA VELORIA: Our--economy is on the rise. We have $600 million surplus in the general fund. The problem is--the problem is the money is not going to those who need it most!
ROD MINOTT: Immigrants found a strong ally in newly elected Governor Gary Locke, the son of Chinese immigrants.
GOV. GARY LOCKE: This is a historic day. I'm humbled and honored to be the first Chinese-American, the first Asian-American governor on the Continental United States.
ROD MINOTT: Upon taking office the governor supported legislation to provide state-funded food stamps for legal immigrants.
State provides own money for immigrant food stamps.
LYLE QUASIM, Director, Social and Health Services: We wanted a welfare program that did not discriminate against any group of people.
ROD MINOTT: Lyle Quasim heads the state's department of social and human services.
LYLE QUASIM: We felt that the federal program was discriminatory inappropriately to legal immigrants. These individuals have come to this country legally, played by the rules, followed the same terms and conditions of any other resident. And from time to time those individuals will fall upon hard times, where they'll need food assistance, and to deny them would be inappropriate.
ROD MINOTT: Immigrant advocate Dianne Narasaki points out that the vast majority of immigrants are not on food stamps; rather, they're gainfully employed.
DIANNE NARASAKI, Asian Counseling & Referral Service: Washington State is much more, I think, attuned to the benefits that immigrants present to the economy than many states because it is a very trade-dependent state. There's a large immigrant population here, and I think many Washingtonians, though, as is true throughout the country, immigrants present a net benefit to the economy, rather than a drain on the economy.
ROD MINOTT: That argument helped win bipartisan support for the Food Assistance Bill, which passed unanimously in both Houses of the state legislature.
GOV. GARY LOCKE: I'm proud to sign first in Gross Senate Bill 6098 that ensures equal treatment for immigrants past, present, and future.
ROD MINOTT: Gov. Locked signed the food benefits bill into law last April, appropriating $65 million in state funds over the next two years. A final hurdle was later cleared when the U.S. Congress passed an amendment allowing states to purchase the food stamp coupons from the federal government. Washington was among the first of eleven states to sign up, and went further than most by agreeing to cover all legal immigrants. Quasim says the switch to state control of food assistance for immigrants has been seamless.
LYLE QUASIM: They receive exactly the same coupon so that there's no difference in the eligibility; there's no difference in the coupon that they receive and use as a medium of exchange in the grocery store.
"They are confused and oftentimes fearful to step forward..."
ROD MINOTT: Even so, Dianne Narasaki says many immigrants remain confused by news headlines of federal cuts in food stamps.
DIANNE NARASAKI: The state community services offices have noticed a big drop-off in immigrants coming forward to reapply. The need remains, and they remain eligible, but they are confused and oftentimes fearful to step forward because it is now their understanding that they are not eligible for any benefits, which is not the case.
ROD MINOTT: Narasaki and others also worry a downturn in the state's economy will dry up money in the future for food stamps. Fearful that the government may yet decide to take away her food stamps, Bonnie Garcia has enrolled in a naturalization class.
TEACHER: The pilgrims, why did they leave for America? Who knows?
BONNIE GARCIA: They immigrated to America for religious freedom.
ROD MINOTT: By becoming a U.S. citizen she says she hopes to safeguard her food stamp benefits long enough to find a job.
Next: How Illinois is dealing with the end of
food stamp assistance for legal immigrants.