Immigration & Naturalization Law

Are Immigrants Eligible for Federal Programs?

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.

Immigrant Eligibility and Restrictions

Different federal programs have different requirements for eligibility. Eligibility for these federal benefits is based on several factors, including:

  • Income
  • Assets
  • Household size
  • Work credits
  • Immigration status

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:

  • SNAP (food stamps)
  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • ACA (Obamacare) subsidies

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:

  • Lawful permanent residents (green card holders)
  • Asylees
  • Refugees
  • Cuban/Haitian immigrants
  • Those paroled into the U.S. for at least one year
  • Non-citizens, spouses, children, or parents who are victims of domestic violence
  • Victims of trafficking
  • Those granted withholding of deportation

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 Benefits With TANF

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 CHIP for Noncitizens

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:

  • Lawful permanent residents (green card holders)
  • Asylees
  • Refugees
  • Cuban/Haitian immigrants
  • Those paroled into the U.S. for at least one year
  • Conditional entrants who arrived to the U.S. before 1980
  • Battered non-citizens, spouses, children, or parents
  • Victims of trafficking
  • Those granted withholding of deportation
  • Members of a federally recognized Indian tribe or American Indians born in Canada
  • COFA migrants or citizens of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau who are living in a U.S. state or territory

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 Food Assistance

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:

  • Qualified children under 18 years old
  • Refugees
  • Victims of trafficking
  • Asylees
  • Elderly individuals born on or before August 22, 1931, and who lawfully resided in the U.S. on August 22, 1996
  • Lawful permanent residents (green card holders) in the U.S. who are receiving government payments for disability or blindness
  • Green card holders with a military connection

Other qualified non-citizens are eligible after a waiting period, including LPRs who have earned or can be credited with 40 quarters of work.

Disability and Social Security With SSI and SSDI

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:

  • Lawfully admitted for permanent residence
  • Granted conditional entry
  • Paroled into the United States
  • Admitted as a refugee
  • Granted asylum
  • Had removal (deportation) withheld
  • Admitted from Cuba or Haiti
  • Admitted as an Amerasian immigrant
  • Admitted as an Afghan or Iraqi special immigrant

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.

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