Immigrants contribute a lot to this country, whether they are here lawfully or not.
However, as an immigrant, if you fall on hard times, get injured, or lose your job, you may be wondering if the same benefits available to American citizens can help you too. Many immigrants are actually eligible for some federal programs, including non-citizen immigrants. Social Security, disability, food stamps, and medical benefits can help a struggling family pull through after an injury or illness.
Different federal programs have different requirements for eligibility. Eligibility for these federal benefits is based on several factors, including:
Immigration status is a factor, and undocumented status may mean you are ineligible for benefits. However, even if you are undocumented, your children may be eligible for federal or state benefits, depending on their status. Generally, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for most federal public benefits, including:
Qualified non-citizens who may be eligible for benefits still have to meet the other requirements of the programs, which may include work requirements, income limits, and asset limits. Qualified non-citizens for federal benefits vary by program, and may include:
Even if you are not eligible for federal benefits, check your state benefit programs. Many states make immigrants eligible for state benefits, including healthcare, food assistance, and temporary cash benefits.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides cash benefits to help low-income families with children achieve self-sufficiency. TANF is run at the state level and provides monthly cash assistance payments and other services. Eligibility depends on immigration status. TANF is available for LPRs with a substantial work history or military connection, and refugees, asylees, and other humanitarian cases. For other LPRs, there may be additional eligibility requirements. LPRs without 40 quarters of work earnings are generally not eligible for five years after entry. Generally, unauthorized immigrants are not eligible for TANF benefits.
Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provide health care benefits. Immigrants who are “qualified non-citizens” are generally eligible for Medicaid and CHIP. Qualified non-citizens include:
Some non-citizens, including green card holders, have a five-year waiting period before they can get health care. Other non-citizens, including refugees and asylees, are exempt from the waiting period.
SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This federal government program is operated at the state level to provide access to food. No family should have to worry about going hungry when the country produces more food than we can consume. SNAP provides nutrition benefits to help families get enough healthy food without worrying about where their next paycheck will come from.
SNAP benefits are available to lawfully present non-citizens who meet the SNAP qualifications. Eligibility is based on a few factors, including income, resources, number of children, and work requirements. Some eligible non-citizens are eligible without a waiting period, including:
Other qualified non-citizens are eligible after a waiting period, including LPRs who have earned or can be credited with 40 quarters of work.
Qualifying immigrants are eligible for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Generally, if you have worked and paid into the Social Security system with enough work credits, you are eligible for benefits. For SSI and SSDI, you may have to fall within one of the classifications granted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including:
Other non-citizens may be eligible for disability benefits, and there may be credits of work requirements to qualify. If you have any questions about eligibility for federal benefits, you can safely talk to a Social Security Disability lawyer for help. Your attorney is there to look out for your best interests, no matter what your immigration status is.
When it comes to immigration and whether you can live and work where you want, every detail matters. When the slightest paperwork error or missed deadline can mean years of delays, it is essential to do things right the first time. An experienced immigration lawyer can address your particular needs with immigration, and put you in the best position for a positive outcome. Take the first step now and contact a local immigration attorney to discuss your rights and specific situation.