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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release August 23, 1996


As the President has said, the welfare reform bill he signed into law yesterday offers a historic opportunity to end welfare as we know it and replace it with a system that offers hope, demands responsibility, and rewards work.

However, as the President has also said, the welfare reform bill contains provisions that will cause unfair and unwarranted harm to many families. That is especially true of legal immigrant families, who have followed the rules, worked, and paid taxes, and who have suffered a calamity that has forced them to seek assistance.

The President has vowed to repair these provisions of the bill. In the meantime, however, he is determined to ensure that they are implemented carefully, and that no individuals not actually covered by these provisions are improperly denied the benefits they and their children need.

For that reason, the President has today issued two directives to ensure that legal immigrants and their children who remain eligible for benefits under the new law do not have those benefits cut off mistakenly, and that legal immigrants who are eligible to become citizens can do so as quickly as possible.

The first measure directs the Secretary of Agriculture to ensure that States have the maximum time allowed under the law to make sure that legal immigrants who remain eligible for food stamp benefits continue to receive them. The Secretary is to grant a waiver allowing any state, subject to certain legal restrictions, to extend the certification periods for eligibility for food stamps that apply to legal immigrants receiving assistance. The extension will give States time to develop the procedures needed to make accurate determinations of the many facts -- such as immigration classification, veteran status, or work history -- that the new law makes relevant to eligibility. In this way, the directive will decrease inaccurate or inequitable decisions to cut off food stamp benefits.

Under the terms of the new law, benefits to legal immigrants and their children are cut off only at the time of recertification of their eligibility for food stamps. When a State extends the certification period, it will, in effect, push back the date on which a legal immigrant will be deprived of food stamp benefits.

The waiver has specific time limits. Under current law, the Secretary may not allow states to extend certification periods beyond one year for most aliens or two years for certain elderly or disabled aliens. For states that already use that maximum certification period, the waiver will not have a significant impact. For those that have shorter periods, however, the waiver will permit extensions to a full year or 24 months. The Department, however, may not allow states to extend any recertification beyond August 22, 1997.

The second measure directs the Attorney General, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and other agency heads to make continued efforts to reduce bureaucratic delays in the citizenship process for legal immigrants applying to become citizens. The INS already has made great progress in this area, devoting more resources to processing naturalization applications and reducing long waiting lists. This directive instructs the Attorney General to continue to increase staff used to review citizenship applications and to develop other effective means, including joint efforts with community groups, of assisting applicants for citizenship.

In addition, the directive instructs the heads of all relevant agencies to develop public/private partnerships devoted to providing English-language training to applicants for citizenship; make outreach efforts to those wishing to become citizens; and provide special assistance to refugees and those seeking asylum.

Also today, the Attorney General, under authority granted by the welfare reform law, will issue a memorandum containing a provisional list of non-cash services not conditioned on income or resources that may not be denied to immigrants, because they are "necessary for the protection of life and safety." These services include soup kitchens, medical services, child protection, and services for victims of domestic violence. The Attorney General may amend the list at a later date. Additional information is available at the Justice Department from Myron Marlin, (202) 616-2765.