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Will receiving SNAP benefits hurt my immigration status?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed March 2023

No. It is safe to apply for and get SNAP for yourself if you are eligible, or on behalf of other eligible household members. It is also safe to get cash assistance for eligible dependents, such as your U.S. citizen children.

Public Charge

Sometimes federal immigrant officials ask immigrants applying for a Legal Permanent Resident status or admission to the U.S. if they received certain public benefits. Immigration officials ask these questions to decide if an immigrant is likely to become a “public charge”– a determination that the immigrant is not able to support themselves and may rely on certain government benefits. If the immigration authorities determine someone is likely to become a “public charge,” the government can deny an application for lawful permanent residence, or deny admission (entry or reentry) to the United States.

There are only two types of benefits that may trigger a “public charge” determination:

  • Programs that pay for long-term institutional care such as a nursing home, and
  • Cash assistance benefits the immigrant receives for themselves, because they have little or no money, such as SSI, TAFDC and EAEDC. If the immigrant applies for eligible dependents, but not themselves, benefits for dependents do not trigger a “public charge” determination.  In addition, cash special payments like the COVID stimulus payments or other benefits that are not needs-based, such as Unemployment benefits, are not considered for public charge.

In January 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) issued a Joint Letter to all states reiterating that receipt of non-cash benefits such as SNAP are not considered for public charge. Joint Letter available here.

In September of 2022, the Biden Administration announced they issued updated federal regulations to confirm that receipt of SNAP and other non-cash benefits does not trigger public charge, DHS press statement available here These final regulations went into effect December 23, 2022, but the final rules are simply reinforcing existing policy. See important update from Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF) here.

Reporting immigrant status information

DTA does not report immigrants to USCIS or Homeland Security. State SNAP agencies can only report immigrants who apply for benefits for themselves and show DTA a “final order of deportation.” See DTA’s longstanding policy in DTA Transitions FYI, pg. 8 (January 2004).

Further, state and privacy rules prohibit state workers from sharing information about your status with immigration authorities, unless you give written permission. The information on your SNAP application is private. 106 C.M.R.§360.400

For more resources:

 

DTA Online Guide: See Appendix G for links to the DTA’s BEACON 5 Online Guide for this section.

 

Show DTA Policy Guidance

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