Two Clarifications Emerge on Anti-Citizen Food Stamp Discrimination Issue

By David North on July 26, 2016

Two clarifications have emerged recently on the matter of discrimination in favor of certain mixed families, including aliens, in the food stamp eligibility rules.

As we reported in a CIS Backgrounder, under some circumstances a mixed family including an ineligible alien wage earner can secure food stamps when an identical, all-citizen family (same number of people, same income) is ruled ineligible. But thanks to one error on the part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and another on my part, two clarifications are required.

The tilt in favor of some families containing either illegal aliens or people with relatively new green cards is caused by differential treatment of the incomes; if an ineligible alien is the breadwinner, then that person’s income is partially discounted, making it easier for that family to have a low enough apparent income to secure benefits. There is no discount on the income of a citizen in the family.

We pointed out that a mixed family of three with an income of $2,400 a month would be eligible for food stamps (two allocations) while an identical all-citizen family would not be eligible at all. This is the case because one-third of the alien’s income is discounted.

Geography. One of the complexities of what is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is that there are policy options within the national guidelines that may be adopted by the states and territories.

One of these options is the choice of whether to use the just-described anti-citizen alternative, called "proration" in the trade. We reported that five states (Arizona, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Utah) and Guam have opted to treat the citizen and the mixed families equally, and did so based on a current Department of Agriculture document (see p. 11). Kansas is the sixth state to avoid proration, but this did not register with USDA’s report; it did register with Alex Pfeiffer of the Daily Caller, however, who wrote to us about it.

Mathematics. We correctly reported that, for a family of three, there is a band of discrimination that allows mixed families to get food stamps, but not an identical all-citizen family. Mixed families with gross incomes of $2,177 to $2,589 a month can secure food stamps (for two), while identical all-citizen families cannot get any. We said that the similar band for a family of four would be $2,628 to $3,504, but the upper number should be $2,903, as an alert reader informed us.

It turns out that this band of discrimination gets narrower as the size of the family rises (assuming only one alien in each case), but even when there is a family of eight, it is easier for a mixed family to obtain benefits than an all-citizen family, as shown in the table that follows.

Maximum Gross Monthly Income Ceilings for Food Stamps for Mixed Families (Including One Ineligible Alien) and for All-Citizen Families
Household Size Income Ceilings
for Mixed Families
Income Ceilings
for All-Citizen Families
Discrimination Band Size
2 $2,552 $1,726 $826
3 $2,589 $2,177 $412
4 $2,903 $2,628 $275
5 $3,285 $3,078 $207
6 $3,694 $3,529 $165
7 $4,117 $3,980 $137
8 $4,549 $4,430 $119

Sources: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program FY 2016 Income Eligibility Standards", U.S. Department of Agriculture; "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Guidance on Non-Citizen Eligibility", U.S. Department of Agriculture, June 2011.

These figures are for gross monthly incomes in 2016; the mixed families will get food stamp allocations for only the eligible members of the household, so the range for them is from one to seven, not two to eight. There are other financial considerations in food stamp qualification decisions, such as limits on net incomes, on financial resources, and, for farm families, on the value of crops and animals.

Also, ceilings are based on the federal poverty level, so they are higher in Alaska and Hawaii, and thus the bands of discrimination are wider in those two states. The ceilings are also higher and the discrimination bands wider for families with more ineligible aliens. The latter concept includes illegal aliens and those with green cards less than five years old. These benefits, incidentally, do not go to all-ineligible alien families; they do not get food stamps no matter what the size of the family or the family’s income.

While other parts of the immigration system, notably the various foreign worker programs, make it possible for legal nonimmigrant workers to get jobs rather than U.S. citizens, SNAP is the only program known to me in which illegal immigration status brings a direct, governmental financial reward. As we noted in the CIS Backgrounder, this anomaly can be addressed in each state that has chosen the proration option. It could also be by addressed by Congress amending the law to eliminate the proration option.