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California Immigrants Have Mostly Lower Rates of Disability and Use of Disability Services than State's U.S.-Born Residents

July 1, 2000

Policy Brief

Authors: A.E. Benjamin, PhD, Steven P. Wallace, PhD, Valentine M. Villa, PhD, Kathy McCarthy

California’s immigrant population has a disability rate lower than or equal to that of the state’s U.S.-born residents. The favorable disability pattern is surprising because California immigrants have, on average, lower levels of education, lower incomes, and lower rates of health insurance coverage — factors associated with higher disability rates in the general population. 

Among adults who report disabilities, immigrants’ use of medical and support services is roughly equivalent to that of nativeborn adults with similar needs and socioeconomic characteristics. 

Federal welfare reform in 1996 eliminated Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) eligibility for immigrants during their first five years in the country. This exclusion was based, in part, on a fear that health and welfare benefits acted as a “magnet” to foreigners in need of these services.

States that choose to cover these recent immigrants must do so without federal matching funds. California continues to provide Medi-Cal eligibility to immigrants regardless of when they entered the United States, and thus California bears the entire cost of this program. 

These new findings on the levels of disability and use of disability services among California’s adult immigrants and their U.S.-born counterparts suggest that such “magnet” concerns are unfounded. Restoring full federal participation in Medicaid services for new immigrants, services currently provided by 100% state funds in California, is not likely to draw more disabled immigrants to the U.S.

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