Where immigrants cannot obtain federal public benefits

This is a seemingly simple question to ask which quickly becomes a morass.

Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), “qualified” non-citizens are generally barred from receiving certain federal public benefits for a period of five years from the date they become eligible for the benefits.  Qualified persons include recent green card holders — the great majority of new non-temporary new arrivals,  The benefits that are subject to this five-year ban include:

Supplemental Security Income (SSI); Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); Medicaid (with some exceptions); Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); Food Stamps (SNAP); and certain housing programs, including Section 8 housing vouchers and public housing

There are exceptions to this five-year ban. Refugees, asylees, and other humanitarian immigrants are generally exempt from the ban and may be eligible for these benefits immediately upon entry into the United States. Additionally, some benefits, such as emergency Medicaid and disaster relief, are not subject to the five-year ban. Finally, some states have opted to provide certain benefits to non-citizens regardless of their immigration status or the length of time they have been in the country.

And, federally supported community health centers routinely provide medical care to all comers no questions asked about legal status, time in country, etc.

The federal government has a website which provides a user friendly way to find what federal and state public benefits are legally available, based on about 20 questions asked. Unfortunately the website in Kafka-esque style asks the user if there are eligible for some dozen truly valuable benefits – it doesn’t tell the user.

See a recent report by the Center for Immigration Studies which decries the expansion by the Biden administration of federal public benefits to certain classes of foreign-born persons legally in the U.S.

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