President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is affecting the number of immigrant families enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known colloquially as food stamps.
New research from Boston Medical Center’s Children’s HealthWatch surveyed approximately 35,000 immigrant mothers in five U.S. cities — Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Little Rock — from 2007 through the first half of 2018. What they found was a clear increase in SNAP participation among immigrant mothers from 2007 until 2017. In 2018, however, only 34.8 percent of immigrant families living in the United States for less than five years received SNAP benefits, compared to 43 percent in 2017. Among immigrant mothers living in the United States for more than five years, there was a 2 percent drop in SNAP enrollment in 2018.
The significant drop in the number of immigrant families receiving nutritional assistance comes at a time when food insecurity is rising. While Trump likes to boast that the economy has never been better, food insecurity for immigrant households increased by almost 18 percent since 2007.
Experts suggest the drop in immigrant SNAP participation is closely linked to the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants, particularly those who are enrolled in public assistance programs.
“It’s important to note that the eligibility rules for SNAP remained unchanged between 2017 and 2018. We believe the drop in participation may be related to more nuanced changes in national immigration rhetoric and increased federal action to deport and detain immigrants,” Lead researcher and Deputy Director of Policy Strategy for Boston Medical Center’s Children’s HealthWatch Allison Bovell-Ammon said in a statement. “These findings demonstrate that rhetoric and the threat of policy changes, even before changes are enacted, may be causing families to forego nutrition assistance.”
“Some immigrant families may be forced to make agonizing choices between enrolling in critical nutrition programs and jeopardizing their future immigration status,” she added. “These tradeoffs are likely to have a negative impact on children’s and families’ health.”
That immigrants are dropping from the very programs they need to help support themselves is unsurprising, given the administration’s attacks on immigrant families trying to adjust to life in the United States.
In September, after the White House announced it was considering a rule that would deny green card applications to immigrants enrolled in government assistance programs, immigrant mothers called local health providers in a panic, asking to be dropped from WIC, a federal nutrition program aimed at supporting pregnant women and children.
A few weeks later, the administration formally unveiled its “public charge” rule. Under the archaic policy, immigrants who opt to use such public benefits like SNAP, Section housing, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, or Medicare’s prescription drug program — even for U.S. citizen children — would be compelled to stop using the programs or risk being considered a “public charge,” deeming them unqualified for legal residency.
As ThinkProgress previously reported, if American citizens were forced to play by the same rules, only one-third of Americans would qualify.