Low-Income US Immigrants Feared Seeking Benefits During Pandemic – Report

Many families suffered food insecurity but decided against using government benefits over concerns of their immigration status.

Low-income immigrants in the US who struggled to afford basic needs during the coronavirus pandemic avoided seeking government benefits and other assistance because of immigration-related concerns, according to a new report by the Urban Institute.

Immigrants, and especially immigrant women, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic-induced recession, enduring higher unemployment rates than workers born in the United States, the Migration Policy Institute reports.

While the economy sputtered, more than a quarter of adults in low-income immigrant families said they or their partner lost a job, the Urban Institute found. Roughly half said the pandemic had negatively affected their family’s employment, whether through layoffs, furloughs, lost income or other threats to their livelihoods.

For many, that sudden economic distress coincided with serious material hardship in 2020, as they forwent costly medical care and scrambled to make rent or mortgage payments.

Over 41% of adults in low-income immigrant families suffered food insecurity, more than a quarter had trouble paying family medical bills, and almost 23% struggled to cover their utilities.

By December, a majority said they were concerned about paying for housing and medical costs, picking up enough work hours and being able to pay debts in the next month.

But, even as low-income immigrant families worried about meeting their needs, a sizable chunk – 27.5% – decided against using non-cash government benefits or other help because of immigration-related concerns. They didn’t apply for or stopped participating in nutrition, health and housing programs, which could have provided the life-sustaining basics they needed.

Low-income families with nonpermanent residents – undocumented immigrants, temporary visa holders, etc – were especially vulnerable to those chilling effects. Nearly 44% avoided assistance because of fears over their immigration status or enforcement, including whether it would affect their ability to get a green card.

By Alexandra Villarreal for THE GUARDIAN
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