In recent years, restrictive immigration policies, such as expansions to the public charge rule, have led many immigrant families to avoid safety net programs. Although the Biden administration has stated that the expanded public charge rule is no longer in effect, confusion and misinformation around whether use of safety net programs may affect applicants’ future immigration prospects could continue to deter immigrant families from accessing the benefits they are eligible for.

The transition from an administration with restrictive immigration policies to one that has a more welcoming stance offers a chance to better understand immigrant families’ attitudes about accessing the safety net. New Urban Institute research based on data collected during the transition between federal administrations identifies the extent of immigrants’ hardships and concerns about using safety net benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings from this research can inform promising strategies to counteract fears and help ensure immigrant families’ needs are met.

The pandemic had a disproportionate effect on families of color, including many in immigrant families. Overrepresentation in low-wage and essential industries increased immigrant families’ risk of exposure to the virus, and lower rates of health insurance coverage among noncitizens increased their potential health and economic precarity.

Our analysis of Urban’s Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey, a national survey conducted in December 2020, found about half (51.8 percent) of adults in immigrant families with low incomes reported the pandemic negatively affected their or a family member’s employment, and similar shares worried about being able to pay medical costs or their rent or mortgage. These hardships extended to adults in immigrant families with children, as 28.0 percent reported their family faced food insecurity in the previous 12 months, and almost 30 percent reported that someone in their family had missed out on needed health care because of cost or were having trouble paying medical bills.

Read the full article about building immigrants' trust in safety nets at Urban Institute.