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Immigrant Eligibility Chart

January 2, 2009


This four-page guide summarizes the immigration status requirements as a condition of eligibility for non-citizens residing in New York State who are applying for public benefits.  The immigrant eligibility rules of the following public benefit programs are outlined:  

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 
  • Federal Food Stamps (FS) 
  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) – NYS Family Assistance (FA) 
  • Medicaid (Federal and State Programs) and Family Health Plus (FHP) 
  • Child Health Plus (CHIP) 
  • Title XX Services 
  • Safety Net Assistance (SNA) 
  • Childcare 

In the summer of 1996, Congress enacted a massive welfare reform bill, the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which imposed complicated eligibility rules on lawfully residing immigrants in need of public benefits.  New York implemented the federal changes through the New York State Welfare Reform Act of 1997 (WRA).  Since PRWORA’s initial enactment, there have been several amendments to its provisions, most of which have expanded the access of lawfully residing immigrants to the various benefit programs.  First, the impending termination of the Supplementary Security Income (SSI) benefits of thousands of elderly and disabled immigrants mandated by PRWORA in 1996 was averted by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 ( BBA), which permitted immigrants in receipt of SSI when PRWORA was enacted to keep their benefits.  The BBA also restored prospective SSI eligibility to immigrants in a qualified immigration status who were lawfully residing in the United States in August of 1996 and who later become disabled. 

In 2002, the Food Stamp Reauthorization Act restored federal food stamp eligibility to otherwise eligible children and disabled adults in a qualified immigrant status without a five-year bar.   Non-disabled adults became eligible for food stamp benefits once they had resided in the U.S. in a qualified status for five years.   

The courts have also weighed in on behalf of immigrants.  In 2001, the NY Court of Appeals ruled, in Aliessa, et al. v. Novello (96 N.Y. 2d 418), that New York must provide state funded Medicaid to the lawfully residing immigrants who had been excluded by PRWORA from access to the federal Medicaid program, specifically, immigrants “permanently residing under color of law” (PRUCOL) and those with a qualified immigration status but subject to the federal five year bar.  

For the most part, PRWORA’s sponsor income deeming and liability rules have not been much of an issue in New York.  Until the NYS Department of Health issues regulations, local districts have been advised that sponsor deeming and liability is not to be imposed in the State’s Medicaid program. In addition, local social services districts have been instructed not to bring court actions against sponsors of immigrants for the reimbursement of food stamp benefits.  With respect to the State’s public assistance program, a pre-PRWORA decision of the NYS Court of Appeals, Minino v. Perales (79 N.Y.2d 883), held that sponsor income deeming rules could not be used to deny benefits to a needy immigrant who is otherwise eligible for assistance.  However, sponsor liability rules undoubtedly have had a chilling effect on the willingness of sponsored immigrants to apply for assistance and the actions of some local districts have no doubt reinforced this reluctance.                                                  

 1 This chart is available on the Web at Comments and questions can be directed to The author acknowledges the immense contribution of Marcella Silverman, Clinical Professor at Fordham, in the original drafting of this chart.  


Download the PDF: Immigrant Eligibility Chart

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