Immigrants' Eligibility for Benefits




The laws, policies and procedures governing immigrants’ eligibility for public benefit and housing programs are complicated, in part because they are specific to each benefit program. Eligibility rules for many of the federal benefits are based on the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, which severely limited immigrants’ eligibility for public benefits. Other laws which impacted immigrants’ eligibility include the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1996, the Federal Balanced Budget Act of 1997, the 1998 Agriculture Research Extension and Education Reform Act, Noncitizen Benefit Clarification and Other Technical Amendments Act of 1998, the Food Stamp Reauthorization Act of 2002, the SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act, the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, and the Affordable Care Act of 2010. In addition, in NYS, the court case, Aliessa v. Novello, expanded Medicaid eligibility to include all lawfully residing immigrants in NYS, but with the implementation of the Essential Plan in NYS in 2016, many of these lawfully residing immigrants are now eligible for the Essential Plan.

Summary of Immigrants’ Eligibility for Public Benefits

The rules regarding which immigrants are eligible for the various public benefit and housing programs vary. Each program has different regulations regarding eligibility. For many federal public benefit programs, eligibility is predicated on whether an immigrant is a “qualified alien”, as well as other factors (depending on the particular program) such as when the immigrant entered the U.S., whether the immigrant adjusted status to lawful permanent resident (LPR), the age or disability status of the immigrant, and whether the immigrant can be credited with a sufficient work history under the Social Security system. Eligibility for state and local benefit programs, such as the Safety Net Assistance Program in NYS, depends on whether the immigrant is considered as permanently residing under color of law (PRUCOL). In addition, individuals who are “lawfully present” are eligible to purchase a health insurance plan on the NY State of Health Marketplace.