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Immigrant Eligibility - Brief SNAP/Cash Policy Reminders

We’ve recently fielded a slew of calls and emails regarding immigrant eligibility for SNAP and TAFDC.  With staffing changes at DTA local offices, as well as new advocates in community-based organizations, it's worth periodic reminders on some of the more confusing immigrant eligibility rules. Here's some pointers in Q &A format.  

1. Haitian immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS).  

Question:  A Haitian mother and child recently applied for TAFDC and SNAP benefits. The mother presented Employment Authorization documents showing she has Temporary Protected Status for herself and her children since 2011. However, we also learned that the family earlier arrived in the United States with  Humanitarian Parole status. Are they eligible for SNAP and/or TAFDC?

Answer:  YES! Although immigrants granted TPS are generally not eligible for eligible for the federal SNAP or TAFDC benefits, Cubans or Haitians who previously had Parole status are still "Cuban/Haitian entrants" and meet the federal rules as a “qualified noncitizen.”  Receipt of TPS does not change their Cuban/Haitian entrant status for public benefits. Since immigrants typically present their most current document to DTA, for example, the Employment Authorization document, I-688 showing the TPS status, it is always important to ask an immigrant about their prior status. In this care, be sure to ask about humanitarian parole status or if an asylum application was pending or other status before the TPS status that might qualify.  See DTA Field Operations Memo 2007-52:  /node/19810

Also note, TPS meets the legal immigrant status requirements for persons who otherwise meet the financial and categorical eligibility rules (elderly, disabled, unrelated children). Please let MLRI or your local Legal Service office know if you see any Haitian clients denied or terminated from benefits!

2. Iraq and Afghani immigrants with Legal Permanent Resident status:

Question: A family of four from Iraq recently came to our office for help with SNAP.  They have “green cards” showing they are Legal Permanent Residents. I know that the child is eligible for SNAP because there is no five year wait for children, but are the parents eligible for SNAP?  Is the family eligible for TAFDC?  They just arrived here a few months ago and have no work history in the United States.

Answer:  Many Iraqi and Afghan nationals have been granted LPR status as "Special Immigrant Visa" (SIV) holders. These are typically Iraqi and Afghan nationals (and their family members) who worked with the U.S. military, such as interpreters, and entered the US with as LPRs without having to go through refugee processing. Under federal law, Special Immigrant Visa grantees are treated the SAME as refugees for benefits programs. This means they are eligible for Refugee Resettlement Program benefits (generally 8 months of RRP assistance post arrival), and they also qualify for SNAP, TAFDC, Medicaid and other federal benefits without the five year wait imposed on other LPRs.  Look for the “SI” or “SQ” codes stamped on their passports, arrival documents (I-94) or “green cards” (I-551 card).  AfghanAfghanAfghanAfghanAfghanAfghanAfghanAfghanAfghanAfghanAfghanAfghanAfghanHere is the DTA Field Operations Memo on the Iraqi and Afgan Special Immigrant Visa holders: /node/31105  

3.  Five year bar waiting period and exceptions:

Question: An elderly couple recently asked me about applying for SNAP. They are both Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) with a “date of entry” as of  January 2010.  Do they need to wait five years before they qualify for SNAP?

Answer:  You need more information from the elderly couple! While there is NO 5 year waiting period for many immigrant children ( LPRs, battered or paroled into the U.S), there are also important  EXCEPTIONS to the five year waiting period for immigrant adults. For example, there is NO five year wait if the LPR immigrant -   

  • Is disabled and receiving a disability-based benefit (such as EAEDC or Mass Health as disabled, or a disabled TAFDC parent, depending on the severity of disability).
  • Had prior status as a refugee, asylee, withholding of deportation, Cuban/Haitian entrant (including Cubans or Haitians with parole, asylum pending, etc), or one of the other qualified statuses.  
  • Has enough countable work history (40 quarters, about 10 years worth).  Work history includes work done by the immigrant, his or her spouse, and work done by  parents during the years before the immigrant turned age 18 (even if the immigrant is now over age 18). The amount of required earnings for each work quarter is small and work quarters can be “shared” between immigrants.

In all cases, do not assume every LPR is subject to a five year wait!  You need to find out about any prior immigration status, any disabilities and/or family work history.  And remember, the “date of entry” on the green card is just the date the status was granted and not the physical date of entry to the U.S., which means people often do have prior status or work history.  Also remember, for battered immigrant adults, the date the five year period begins can be much earlier than when LPR status was granted. For all the DTA Guidance and more information on the 5 year waiting period, proving disability, proving work history, battered immigrant status, see Questions 21 through 25 of the Food Stamp/SNAP Advocacy Guide:  /node/30371  You can link to all the DTA policy guidance through that section. 

If you have clients denied or terminated from SNAP or cash benefits due to their immigration status, feel free to email or call MLRI for legal advice.  We want to be sure the immigrant benefits policies are being properly followed.  These rules are CONFUSING, so it is easy to make mistakes. Some local Legal Services office may also be able to represent clients, depending on the LS program resources.