Program Transcript

Chinese Journal
KTSF-TV, Channel 26, San Francisco

October 1, 1994

Chinese Journal is a Chinese-language community-affairs discussion program on San Francisco television station KTSF. KTSF is one of three stations in the Bay Area which feature a wide variety of programming in Chinese.

The October 1, 1994 edition of Chinese Journal, which was prepared on September 15, concerned Congressional proposals to reduce immigrant eligibility for welfare programs. Speaking in support of the need for such reform was Professor Norman Matloff of the University of California at Davis. Speaking in opposition was Rosemarie Fan, Social Services Manager at the Oakland Chinese Community Council. The host was Meiling Sze, anchor of KTSF's popular Cantonese Evening News.

The following transcription has been translated from the Chinese by Prof. Matloff.

[The first minute, missing from the tape, involved Sze introducing Fan and Matloff, and then giving an overview of the problem. Sze then asked Matloff how he became involved with this issue.]

Matloff: A few years ago I noticed that a number of family friends, Chinese immigrants, were placing their parents on welfare. The children were well-off financially, so it seemed odd that they were putting their parents on welfare. Moreover, the children, at the time the parents immigrated, had certified that they could support their parents. The parents themselves, in their immigration forms, had also stated that they would not go on welfare. So I felt that it was quite wrong for them to be on welfare.

I then started to investigate this problem through the U.S. Census data, and also by interviewing a number of elderly welfare recipients at the Chinese senior citizen centers, such as the Oakland Chinese Community Council, where Rosemarie is.

Later, I was invited to testify before a Congressional hearing on the matter.

Sze: We know that Congress decided to place restrictions on immigrant use of welfare.

Matloff: No, they haven't passed the legislation yet.

Fan: They changed the length of the deeming period. [Fan was referring to an earlier change, in November 1993, which temporarily extended the deeming period from three years to five years, until 1996.---NM] What this is, is that during this time, if an immigrant applies for welfare, the financial assets of the sponsor are ``deemed'' to be those of the immigrant as well. [Turns to Matloff.] Am I right?

Matloff: Right.

Fan: I've read Prof. Matloff's report. Let me summarize its main points. First, elderly Chinese on SSI [a welfare program popular with the Chinese---NM] don't need the money, right? [Turns to Matloff.]

Matloff: Most of them don't need it.

Fan: [Continuing to summarize Matloff's report.] The Chinese don't consider taking SSI to be a stigma.

Matloff: Right.

Fan: Before immigrating to the U.S., they already know all about the U.S. welfare system.

Matloff: Yes.

Fan: And they come to the U.S. specifically to get welfare.

Matloff: Yes.

Fan: And many community organizations encourage them to take welfare.

Matloff: Yes.

Fan: Your report says that we should reform this.

Matloff: Yes.

Fan: Actually, I agree that we need to reform it. But I think we need to reform a lot of other things too, not just welfare. We should close a lot of loopholes in other areas too.

I went to the library yesterday, and found all these books. [Takes out an armload of books and holds them up to the camera.] For example, here are several books on how to reduce your income tax, how to fight your traffic ticket, how to apply for Social Security and Medicare. So lots of people abuse lots of things.

Matloff: But those aren't necesarily abuses. These are legal. The welfare abuse is just the opposite. The immigrants and their sponsors promised, they signed affidavits, saying that the immigrants won't go on welfare, when in fact they did plan to go on welfare. Falsifying an affidavit is perjury. They could be put in prison.

Fan: If someone catches a fish, and then donates it to charity, they can claim ``full market value,'' exaggerating the size of the fish, on their income tax. The immigrants' sponsors are legally responsible for the immigrants for only three years. And another case...

Matloff: Rosemarie, excuse me, but our time is very limited. Let's agree that there are lots of abuses of loopholes, that most of our prison inmates are not immigrants, etc.

Fan: But you are saying that the immigrants and their sponsors are deceiving the INS. How do you know? If there are that many, then the INS and the State Dept. are really being taken for a ride.

Matloff: Yes. [Actually, in the late 1970's, the INS and the State Dept. tried to crack down on the abuses, but backed down after protests from Asian activist organizations.---NM]

Fan: And also, a sponsor has no way to predict what his future income will be. For example, you're a professor with tenure, so your job is secure. Mine isn't; in fact, my salary was cut 5% last year due to lack of funds.

Sze: OK, let's take a break, and then resume this lively discussion.

[Commercial break.]

Sze: In today's edition of Chinese Journal, we are looking at the impact of immigrants on the U.S. Norman Matloff has completed a report exposing abuse by immigrants of the welfare program for the elderly. Rosemarie Fan of the Oakland Chinese Community Council does not quite agree with this view. Norman, how do you view the reactions to your report?

Matloff: First, I'd like to clarify. Although these elderly are abusing welfare, they're not doing so intentionally. Most of them don't realize welfare is intended only as a safety net. They think it's a natural thing for everybody to take it. So I'm not trying to blame them.

But what I am saying is we definitely need reform. Even Rosemarie agreed just now that we need reform.

The government is in desperate condition financially. And welfare reform is very complex. Immigrant welfare use is only one part of a very complex reform process; there are many other aspects. If you look at a bill like say, HR 3500 [the Republican welfare reform bill, mentioned by Fan during the commercial break---NM], it's a thick book, many pages. Only one part of it addresses welfare use by immigrants; the rest concerns the native-borns.

Welfare reform is very difficult. It's crucial to keep in mind that the reform must be ``revenue-neutral'': If we spend more on one part, we have to reduce another part.

For example, how can we help the native-born Americans escape the welfare cycle? Many have no job skills, low levels of education. We have to give them job training, child care. These are expensive. Where will the money come from? It has to come from elsewhere. Congress feels that immigrant use of welfare is a proper place to cut, because their sponsors certified that they could support the immigrants.

For example, in May in San Francisco's Chinatown, some political activists held a meeting about the welfare reform bills currently pending. The organizers of the meeting invited all Chinese elderly SSI recipients to attend. During the question and answer period, the most common type of question from the elderly recipients was, ``If I leave the country for a vacation, say to China, will that hurt my eligibility for welfare?''

This is really wrong! Welfare recipients are supposed to be poor. How can these recipients afford the luxury of international travel? If you look at the genuine poor, many have never traveled, never been on an airplane, never left California. It's really unfair that people who can afford international travel can get welfare.

If we continue to give welfare to those elderly immigrants who don't need it, and not help the genuine poor, it's very unfair.

Sze: Rosemarie, what is your view?

Fan: Yes, I agree, these things are wrong, and these funds ought to be cut. But we should close other loopholes too. Also, the forms people fill out when they apply for immigration need to be reformed too. [This was a recommendation in Matloff's report too.---NM] The forms should clearly explain to the sponsor and the immigrant that the immigrant is not supposed to go on welfare. They should ask how the immigrant will support himself/herself [after the deeming period ends]. Also, since the U.S. is the leader of the free world, it should take care of people.

Matloff: Rosemarie, shouldn't part of the blame be placed on organizations such as yours? You should be explaining to your clients that welfare is intended only as a safety net, rather than ``free money'' for everyone.

Fan: If a client wants to apply for welfare, I ask whether the sponsor has some problem.

Matloff: Sure, that's during the deeming period, but what about after the deeming period?

Fan: We tell them to apply if they don't have enough money.

Not everyone who is eligible takes the money. We had one the other day. He came to the U.S. in 1969, and is now 70. He worked in a restaurant for 10 years. He now gets Social Security.

Matloff: He should! He worked in the U.S.

Fan: But he told me he doesn't want to apply for SSI. He said, ``My Social Security check of $315 per month is enough for me.''

Matloff: But he's an exception.

Fan: You say he's an exception. But in your report, you are being very selective in defining what an ``exception'' is.

Matloff: No, my report discusses hard numbers from the Census data.

For example, the Census data show that 75% of the elderly immigrant recipients' children are of above-average income. This isn't a guess. This is fact, from the Census data.

Fan: Yes, I accept the Census data. But those figures aren't only for Chinese, right?

Matloff: Well, for example, the 75% figure was for all immigrants, but the Chinese-only figure is very close to this.

Fan: Well, you've done this study, and you're a professional statistician, whereas I'm not.

Matloff: It doesn't matter. You don't have to be a statistician for this. It's just simple arithmetic.

Fan: But you restricted your study to those coming after 1980.

Matloff: Right, and why? Because all the social workers and immigrants told me that the earlier immigrants considered taking welfare to be a terrible stigma, whereas the more recent immigrants don't. The more recent immigrants are coming to the America specifically to get welfare. You said this yourself when I interviewed you. Everyone said it.

Fan: Yes, yes.

Matloff: Ask any immigrant, they'll confirm this.

Fan: Yes, yes.

Sze: Well, we really don't have enough time. After the break, we'll turn our attention to the issue of illegal immigrants.

[Commercial break. Fan tells Sze that she doesn't want to change the topic to illegal immigrants, because she feels that she hasn't finished expressing her views on the problems of welfare use by legal immigrants. It is thus agreed by all that the last segment will continue to address the latter subject.]

Sze: Well, we're out of time. Let's come to a conclusion on the welfare question. Rosemarie, I think you have something to say on this?

Fan: Well, how long should the sponsor be responsible for the immigrant? After the immigrant becomes naturalized, should the sponsor still be responsible for the rest of his life? If so, we would have two classes of citizens; the immigrants would be second-class citizens.

Matloff: If you want to look at it that way, we already have two classes---and the immigrants are the ones in the upper class, because they are using SSI at a much higher rate than are the native-borns. Of course we can't look at it that way. But the important point is to be fair. We should not be giving welfare to those who don't need it. Most of the immigrants don't need it. I mentioned the 75% figure earlier.

Sze: I think we all agree on this point.

Fan: But what about those who come here at an age when they are too old to accumulate enough work experience to qualify for Social Security? How can they live, if welfare is not available to them?

Matloff: Well again, their sponsors promised to support them.

Sze: Well, it's too bad we don't have more time to discuss this. [Turns to camera.] Thanks for watching. Goodbye.

Norm Matloff
Sun Jul 9 22:30:35 PDT 1995