One Lawmaker Wants Undocumented Immigrants To Count In Calculations For Cash Assistance Eligibility

Feb 3, 2016

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When officials calculate a family’s income to determine whether they qualify for cash assistance programs, one lawmaker says current rules give families with an undocumented immigrant earner an unfair advantage.

In order to qualify for the Temporary Cash Assistance for Needy Families program, called TANF, a family must be at or below 185 percent poverty. But Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar) says it can be easier for a family to meet that threshold when one of the income earners is an undocumented immigrant.

"Under current law, the income of the illegal alien is not counted at all. But then the benefit is distributed on a pro-rata basis to those family members excluding the illegal alien," Gaetz says.

Gaetz says that creates an unfair situation for a family bringing in about the same amount of money, but whose full income is counted.

“The best example I can provide, the way I think about it if you have a regular street in either of our districts and on that street you have two households right next to each other with the exact same household income, in the family that includes the illegal alien as someone contributing to that household income, they could receive the TANF benefit, whereas the people right next door to them with the exact same income wouldn’t receive the benefit because everyone’s income is counted in the second house,” Gaetz says.

But Gaetz admits the family wouldn’t get the full payment that a qualifying family with no undocumented immigrants would receive since the money is distributed on a pro-rata basis—meaning each family member excluding the undocumented immigrant gets an equal share of funding.

Still Gaetz wants to make sure the income of undocumented immigrants is counted when officials decide which families are eligible for TANF money. He has a bill to do that and says it could save the state $240,000 because some of the families that currently get money would no longer qualify. But his measure is getting pushback from advocacy groups. Karen Woodall is co-founder of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic policy and she represents the Florida Immigrant Coalition as well.

“The purpose of the temporary cash assistance program is to help families become self-supporting while allowing children to remain in their homes. I would remind you that the income eligibility for these families is 185-percent of poverty. The maximum benefit for a family of three is $303 per month and a family of four is $364,” Woodall says.

Woodall says she can see current law does create an uneven playing field when it comes to determining eligibility for families with undocumented immigrants compared to families where everyone is a citizen. Although she argues it’s not to the extent Gaetz claims, because she says her understanding is that current law counts a portion of the undocumented immigrant’s income when determining both eligibility and benefit. And while Woodall says her groups oppose Gaetz’s bill, she says with a change, they could get on board.

“The amendment that we’re working on moving forward and working DCF on would be to count the full income moving forward but when you’re looking at determining the benefit package which impacts children, citizen children, lawfully present children, this is a mixed family here. That that would remain a prorate-share,” Woodall says.

The measure passed the House Healthcare Accountability committee Tuesday. It heads next to the Health and Human Services Committee.