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Can Permanent Residents and Non Citizens Get Food Stamps?

One of the questions we often get from our readers is whether permanent residents (green card holders) and non-citizens get food stamps (SNAP Benefits). The short answer is yes and no. It entirely depends on the status of the non-citizen. We will review this in detail below.

However, non-citizens who are in the United States illegally are not, and never have been, eligible for food stamps. Keep reading to find out if you’re eligible to receive food stamps as a permanent resident, non citizen, or undocumented immigrant.

"Can Permanent Residents and Non Citizens Get Food Stamps or SNAP?"

Food Stamps Rules for Legal Non-Citizens

Food stamps are available only to U.S. citizens and limited categories of lawfully residing immigrants.

In 1996, most lawfully residing immigrants were cut from the Food Stamp Program, including many immigrants who had been living and working in the U.S. for several years.

This was part of the Welfare Reform program signed into law by President Clinton.

Recognizing the severe inequity and harm caused by this policy, Congress enacted two bills (in 1998 and  2002) restoring eligibility for some categories of immigrants.

Currently, most legal non-citizens adults cannot receive food stamps on the same basis as citizens until they have been in the U.S. in a specified “qualified” immigrant status for five years.

If you are not a US citizen, you may still be eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program if you are a member of one of the following groups:

What You Should Know

Undocumented immigrants, including DACA holders, are not eligible for means-tested benefits, including Food Stamps.

Legal permanent residents are eligible for federal public benefit programs but only after they have resided as a legal resident for five years. The five-year wait applies to federal means-tested benefits, including food stamps.

However, the five-year wait can be bypassed when the recipient has worked 40 quarters under a visa.

Quarters worked by parents when the immigrant was a dependent child, or by a spouse while married to the immigrant, count towards the immigrant’s 40 quarters.

Individuals on non-immigrant and temporary visa holders are ineligible for federal benefits.

Listed below are the details of the law, as it relates to specific non-citizen groups and whether they qualify for food stamps or not and if there is a waiting period:

The following non-citizens are eligible with no waiting period:

  • Qualified alien children under 18.
  • Refugees admitted under section 207 of INA (includes victims of severe forms of trafficking).
  • Victims of Trafficking under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
  • Asylees under Section 208 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
  • Deportation withheld under 243(h) or 241(b)(3) of INA.
  • Amerasian immigrants under 584 of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs Appropriations Act.
  • Cuban or Haitian entrants as defined in 501(e) of the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980.
  • Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants under Section 101(a)(27) of the INA.
  • Certain American Indians born abroad.
  • Members of Hmong or Highland Laotian tribes that helped the U.S. military during the Vietnam era, and who are legally living in the U.S., and their spouses or surviving spouses and unmarried dependent children.
  • Elderly individuals born on or before Aug. 22, 1931, and who lawfully resided in the U.S. on Aug. 22, 1996.
  • LPRs in the US and receiving government payments for disability or blindness.
  • LPRs with a military connection (veteran, on active duty, or spouse or child of a veteran or active duty service member).

Qualified non-citizens eligible after a waiting period

  • A qualified alien is a non-citizen with a certain immigration status as defined under PRWORA.
  • A qualified alien who does not belong to one of the non-citizen groups listed above as eligible with no waiting period can get SNAP benefits if the person is otherwise eligible, and is:
    • A Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) who has earned, or can be credited with, 40 quarters of work; or
    • A qualified alien in one of the following groups who has been in qualified status for 5 years:
    • Paroled for at least one year under section 212(d)(5) of INA.
    • Granted conditional entry under 203(a)(7) of INA in effect before 4/1/80.
    • Battered spouse, battered child or parent or child of an abused person with a petition pending under 204(a)(1)(A) or (B) or 244(a)(3) of INA.

How Many Non- Citizens are on Food Stamps?

According to a recent analysis by the National Academies of Sciences, 45.3 percent of all immigrant-headed households with children use a food assistance program. Eighty-eight percent of all children living with immigrant parents are themselves U.S. citizens.

Non Citizens with Children that are US Citizens

Non-citizens adults who do not qualify for food stamps themselves or undocumented immigrants may apply for food stamps on behalf of their children.

About 3.9 million citizen children living with noncitizen parents received food stamps in 2015, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Programs That Serve Non-Citizens Regardless of Status

While some non-citizens are excluded from the food stamps program, there are other federal programs that serve non-citizens regardless of their status.

This includes the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Head Start, and various in-kind emergency services.

Undocumented immigrants are also eligible for Emergency Medicaid.

This program typically covers acute medical situations including childbirth but not longer-term treatment for chronic conditions, even if they are life-threatening.

Emergency Medicaid is estimated to cost about $2 billion per year, well less than 1 percent of the overall Medicaid budget.

Crackdown By The Trump Administration

There has been a lot of confusion in immigrant communities about eligibility for food stamps due to the recent crackdown on illegal immigration under President Donald Trump.

Some poor immigrant households have are taking drastic steps out of fear, including opting out of federal food assistance like food stamps out of fear of deportation.

That’s because they don’t want to put their name and address on a form for a government public benefit out of fear that they’ll be sought out and asked to leave.

USDA’s Position

The Department of Agriculture says a lower percentage of noncitizens who qualify for food stamps have historically used the benefit than citizens.

Part of the reason is an incorrect perception that it could affect their immigration status or hurt their chances of becoming a U.S. citizen.

However, according to the USDA, non-citizens will not be deported, denied entry to the country, or denied permanent status because they apply for or receive SNAP benefits.

Kwame Kuadey

Kwame Kuadey writes about personal finance and the social safety net. His career started in banking but he caught the entrepreneurial bug and has spent the last decade building successful businesses, including an Inc. 500 Company. Kwame believes everyone has the power to improve their quality of life by seeking knowledge and taking action. In 2012, Kwame founded Empower Media to help low-income households improve their financial situation. His expertise is in topics relevant to low-income households, including government benefits and assistance, banking products, access to credit, plus tools & resources to help reduce income volatility and build wealth. Kwame has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, Washington Post, ABC, and NPR.



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