Jeff Perry’s amendment number 119 to the budget kicked up a storm of controversy. I received emotional input on both sides of the issue, but the limited evidence that is readily accessible suggests that in practice the amendment wouldn’t have changed much.
The amendment would require the use of enhanced verification procedures to determine the immigration status of applicants for benefits. However, to many people calling on both sides of the question, the issue seemed to be whether illegal immigrants should be entitled to benefits.
In truth, the laws governing the major welfare programs — medicaid, welfare and food stamps — all prohibit participation by illegal immigrants and provide for extensive verification. Here are some relevant links:
- Masshealth eligibility overview
- MassHealth eligibility regulations
- Masshealth eligibility verification chart
- Welfare eligibility overview
- Welfare eligibility regulations (see section 670 and 675)
- Food program eligibility regulations
HHS staff report that they use federal computer program mandated by the amendment, SAVE, in ambiguous cases.
While the data are sketchy, anecdotal evidence suggests that these protections suffice to prevent undocumented immigrants from seeking benefits — most seek to avoid contact with bureaucracy. For one actual study, see this link.
I haven’t seen a real study of the eligibility standards and verification procedures for all programs offering benefits in the Commonwealth, and the proponents of the amendment didn’t offer one, but the highlights visible in a quick review suggest that the amendment didn’t speak to a real problem in practice — it was based on good politics, but not based on good analysis.