After 10 years of consistent gains, the number of immigrant families enrolled in SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, fell by 10 percent in 2018. Particularly, for families who had been in the U.S for fewer than five years.
The finding comes from new research presented this month at the American Public Health Association annual conference.
The study surveyed 35,000 immigrant mothers of U.S. citizen children in five U.S. cities, including Boston and Baltimore. Lead researcher Allison Bovell-Ammon at Boston Medical Center says the research is preliminary and there are many possible explanations for the drop in enrollment, including an improved economy.
Still, she suspects the data could be a reflection of the many news stories reported this year, of families who have chosen to leave social benefit programs out of fear it could impact their immigration status.
“We think that these policies are forcing immigrants to choose between feeding their children today and what their future immigration status may be,” she said.
Bovell-Ammon points to one policy in particular known as public charge. The term has been apart of U.S. immigration policy since 1882 and was intended to prevent the immigration of
people who were likely to be financially dependent, like people with criminal records or those with mental health disorders.
The Trump administration has recently proposed broadening that policy to include individuals who have used of public benefit programs including SNAP and Medicaid.
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement the policy change would “promote immigrant self-sufficiency” and ensure that they “are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”