Qualifications for Public Benefits

Matt and I attended a training on Immigrants & Public Benefits given by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (mlri.org/), and I wanted to share some information and resources with you. Hopefully it is either helpful in your direct work or the knowledge can help you to point your clients in the right direction.


What immigrants are qualified to receive public benefits?
There are some classifications of immigrants and statuses that allow a person to be qualified to receive public benefits. It is important to remember that being qualified is not the same thing as being eligible. For instance, a person may be within one of the groups of people qualified to apply based on his/her status, but they are not eligible because they do not meet some other requirement, e.g. enough work history.


Federally Qualified

  • Legal permanent residents
  • People paroled into the U.S. for at least one year
  • Refugees
  • Political Asylees
  • Grantees of Withholding of Removal
  • Cuban/Haitian entrants
  • Battered immigrants (including children and parents)
  • Victims of trafficking


Five Year Bar

For some public benefits, there is a 5 year wait before a person is able to apply for the benefit. SSI, SNAP, MassHealth, and TAFDC require a waiting period of 5 years for:

  1. LPRs
  2. Battered Immigrants (not TAFDC)
  3. People paroled on/after Aug. 22, 1996

Practice Tip: If a person who is now an LPR, but he/she entered the U.S. with a different qualifying status, he/she does not have to wait for the 5 years!

The five year bar does not apply to:

  • Asylees
  • Cuban/Haitian entrant
  • Certain Amerasians (Vietnam-born)
  • Refugees
    • Trafficking
    • Afghan & Iraqi Special Immigrants
  • Withholding of Removal
  • Certain American Indians (e.g. born in Canada)
  • S. Armed Forces veterans and active duty military (including children and spouses)


Program-Specific Exceptions

  • MassHealth
    • Children under 19 and
    • Pregnant women
    • Battered immigrants
  • SNAP
    • Children under 18
    • Recipients of certain disability benefits
    • 40 quarters of work history
      • Practice Tip: Person can receive credit for the work history of spouse (during marriage) and parents (earned in U.S. before child was 18 – even before the child was born!)


What about housing assistance or subsidized housing?

Housing assistance is divided between those that are federally subsidized and those that are state subsidized. Federal programs are more stringent on who can apply for subsidized housing than are Massachusetts programs.


Federal Eligibility

In Massachusetts, there are about 35,000 units of federally subsidized housing (not including vouchers).

  • S. Citizens (born and naturalized)
  • Eligible noncitizens
    • LPRs
    • Refugee or asylee
    • Conditional entrant
    • Parolee
    • Withholding of removal grantee
    • Recipient of 1986 amnesty status
    • Resident of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, and Guam
    • Victim of trafficking and relatives


Practice Tip: If one person is eligible to apply for federal housing but he/she lives with other people who are not eligible, he/she can still live in the unit with these relations. However, a mixed household is pro-rated based on eligible persons and thus, subject to higher rent. Therefore, it may not be the best option if only one person is eligible because the rent may be too high.
State Eligibility: Each state differs on eligibility, but in Massachusetts, state subsidized housing is also accessible to undocumented immigrants. There are about 48,000 units of state subsidized housing in Massachusetts.

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