Foreign-Born and U.S.-Born Families: Who Takes Up Supports?
Several federal programs are intended to support the basic needs and self-sufficiency of low-income families. They include health insurance (Medicaid and SCHIP), food programs (food stamps and WIC), and childcare subsidies. However, a survey of a low-income sample of families in south Florida shows that access to and use of these services by parents of young children differ according to where the mother was born. (See graph above.)
U.S.-born mothers are significantly more likely to be covered by health insurance and to have all of their children covered by health insurance than foreign-born mothers. They also are significantly more likely to receive food stamps and receive a childcare subsidy than foreign-born mothers. Foreign-born mothers, on the other hand, are much more likely to participate in the Women, Infants, and Children’s (WIC) nutritional program than U.S-born mothers.
These are the results of an 8-year longitudinal study examining the use and effectiveness of an array of services in Palm Beach County, Florida in promoting school readiness and school success and improving family functioning among children and families most in need of support. Begun in 2004, the study explored questions concerning available services and supports and how they are used by families of young children. Researchers used mixed methods including analysis of administrative data on service use, interviews with a sample of mothers who gave birth to a child (referred to as the focal child); and a qualitative study involving in-depth interviews and observations of a subset of these families. Because such programs as Medicaid and food stamps require legal immigrants to have 5 years of residency in order to be eligible, researchers looked at foreign-born mothers who had been in the U.S. for less than 5 years and those who had been in the U.S. for 5 years or longer. All children born in the U.S. are eligible for these services and supports.
Disparities in the take up of a number of support programs are apparent when U.S.-born mothers and children are compared to their foreign-born counterparts. The study also showed differences between children whose mothers have been in the U.S. less than 5 years and those who have been in the U.S. longer. For example, 31 percent of children whose mothers have been in the U.S. under 5 years have access to food stamps via someone in the household, compared to 20 percent of children whose mothers have been in the U.S. longer. Seventy-seven percent of children whose foreign-born mothers have been in the U.S. under 5 years receive[d] WIC, compared to 68 percent of those whose mothers have lived in the U.S. for longer periods. WIC is the only assistance program studied that shows greater foreign-born than U.S.-born take up.
Although eligibility requirements prevented some mothers from accessing income supports, study data indicate that there were other factors, such as application and recertification processes, that discourage mothersboth U.S.- and foreign-bornfrom accessing benefits for their children who are eligible. In addition, some foreign-born mothers are limited by their language and literacy levels and provider factors such as the location and hours of program offices and unsupportive staff.
Approximately three times the proportion of U.S.-born families took up the childcare subsidy as did foreign-born families. The interview data suggest that foreign-born mothers were less enthusiastic about center-based childcare when their children were young (less than 3 years), which might cause some disparity in the proportion of foreign-born mothers receiving a subsidy compared with U.S.-born mothers, but they were more willing to consider this kind of care after their children turn 3.
Although all families should be better educated about the availability of federal assistance programs and should be encouraged to and assisted in enrolling in these programs, special attention should be paid to informing foreign-born mothers about these programs and assisting them with the application process. Attention should also be paid to improving the skills of providers in working with foreign-born families.