Language, lower levels of education and lack of financial resources often create barriers to better opportunities for immigrants, whether they are here legally or illegally. Consequently, many struggle financially and need help overcoming employment and economic challenges to improve the quality of their families' lives. Fortunately, some outlets for financial help can ease some of their concerns.
Cash Assistance Programs
Some states offer cash assistance programs for legal immigrants who have little or no income. For example, California offers a state-funded program to low-income immigrants who are blind, disabled or age 65 and older. Immigrants who are ineligible to receive federal Supplemental Security Income because they aren’t yet citizens can often receive benefits through this program. They must meet all other criteria to otherwise qualify for SSI. Eligibility rules for CAPI depend on an individual’s circumstances. The amount of benefits varies based on income. Hiding income or not accurately reporting income can interfere with an individual’s eligibility to become a citizen.
Medical Assistance Programs
Immigrants not eligible for full medical assistance may qualify for emergency medical assistance under state Medicaid programs. Individuals who would otherwise meet the requirements for medical assistance but are denied because of their immigration status qualify for temporary enrollment, according to federal welfare and immigration laws. The goal is to provide treatment for a medical condition that puts an individual’s health at serious risk. An immigrant who applies for emergency medical assistance must provide a letter from a doctor to a Medicaid caseworker. The letter must identify the medical condition, specify the need for immediate treatment, list the kinds of treatment the patient will need and explain the health-related consequences if the individual does not receive treatment.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
Illegal immigrants who have American-born children can get assistance through the food stamp program, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Department of Agriculture points out that the program is intended to help qualified individuals feed their children and includes American children living in mixed-status households. When applying for SNAP benefits, immigrants are not required to declare their immigration status. As long as there is a child in the household who is an American citizen and the family meets the income eligibility requirements for household size, it will qualify for SNAP.
Refugee Resettlement Programs
Programs in several states help refugees achieve a better standard of living and become self-sufficient. For example, the Massachusetts Refugee Resettlement Program helps refugees learn English and find jobs. Some individuals in the program also qualify for medical assistance and receive cash assistance for up to eight months. Refugees must meet certain criteria to be eligible for the program. Income limits for cash and medical assistance depend on family size. While most refugees have little or no income, a refugee who is considered economically self-sufficient will not qualify for employment services. Federal law allows refugees to receive financial assistance and free employment and support services for the first five years after coming to the country.
- Migration Policy Institute: Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States
- Alameda County Social Services: Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants
- Pennsylvania Health Law Project: Emergency Medical Assistance for Immigrants
- Washington Examiner: USDA to Mexico -- Illegal Immigrants Can Have Food Stamps
- Administration for Children and Families: Office of Refugee Resettlement
- National Immigration Law Center: Overview of Immigrant Eligibility for Federal Programs
Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.