Food Stamps. The application process in New York City varies significantly by the type of assistance individuals want to receive. Applicants applying only for food stamps must go to one of the specialized food stamp-only offices to obtain an application. The receptionist pre-screens completed applications and asks applicants additional questions to determine if they need expedited food stamps. Applicants then receive an appointment for an eligibility interview, typically within five days and even sooner if eligible for expedited food stamps.
Special Assistance for Refugees Applying for Benefits
Sponsor agencies play a key role in ensuring that refugees quickly access benefits by facilitating the application process. This makes the application process generally easier for refugees to navigate than is true for other non-citizens.
Most refugees are sponsored by organizations (rather than the employers or individuals that sponsor other immigrants). These refugee sponsors are often non-profit organizations who have Reception and Placement grants from the U.S. Department of State to aid refugees in resettling in the United States. These agencies either sponsor the refugees themselves or find family members or others to sponsor them in the communities where they resettle. According to welfare agency staff in the six study sites, refugees that apply for benefits are almost always sponsored by agencies as opposed to individuals.
Refugees are usually destitute upon arrival and therefore eligible for the full package of benefits: TANF, food stamps, and Medicaid/SCHIP. Single refugees and others not eligible for TANF because of family composition usually receive Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Medical Assistance (an insurance program similar to Medicaid) instead during their first eight months in the country. If they still need assistance at the end of their resettlement period, refugees may transition to regular public benefits (i.e., TANF, food stamps, and Medicaid/SCHIP) if they are eligible.
Sponsor agencies generally provide initial cash and other assistance immediately upon arrival, and then help refugees and their families apply for public benefits. For example, sponsor agency staff will accompany refugees to the welfare office, help them fill out application forms, show them what documentation needs to be assembled, make sure their paperwork is in order, and provide language interpretation and translation if needed. In New York, for example, representatives from the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA) accompany new refugees to apply for benefits. They assist applicants in completing the application and provide interpretation assistance, when necessary. In Raleigh, an eligibility worker from the welfare office regularly goes to Lutheran Family Services, a resettlement agency, to process refugee benefit applications.
TANF/FSP/Medicaid. In contrast, families applying for TANF/FSP/Medicaid must complete a several steps prior to eligibility determination:
- Individuals give the completed application to the Job Center receptionist who asks preliminary questions.
- A Job Opportunity Specialist (i.e., eligibility worker) screens applicants, explains the programs, and offers alternative services to cash assistance.
- If the applicant would still like to apply for cash assistance, the Job Opportunity Specialist conducts an eligibility interview, prepares an initial assessment and work plan, and refers the applicant to:
- An eligibility verification review (EVR) performed at a different office location and subsequent home visit,
- A workforce orientation,
- Finger imaging and photographing,
- Mandatory daily job search classes for the duration of the 30-day eligibility determination period, and if necessary,
- Additional medical and substance abuse reviews at other locations.
Depending upon the particular Job Center, orientation, finger imaging, photographing, orientation, and job search may take place at the Job Center or at other locations. Medical and substance reviews do not take place at the Job Centers.
The EVR represents the high priority New York City places on deterring and controlling fraud. EVR Investigators are responsible for identifying those who are not eligible, and they review documents and verify information provided to staff at the Job Centers (e.g., household composition, income, and city residency).
New York City transitioned its welfare offices to “Job Centers” in July 2001, which resulted in a somewhat less cumbersome application process for families applying for cash assistance and other services. The transition integrated pre-screening, meeting with an employment counselor, and the initial eligibility interviews into a single interview. All TANF applicants must still go through the separate EVR before their applications are approved. As noted earlier, non-Spanish speaking refugees and other non-citizens applying for TANF/FSP/Medicaid are required to go to one of two specialized Job Centers.19 Although the location is different, the application process is very similar to that in the non-specialized Job Centers — applicants must also meet up-front requirements and participate in EVR.
Medicaid/SCHIP. The application process for individuals seeking only Medicaid/SCHIP in New York City is much simpler than the TANF/FSP/Medicaid process. Families may apply for Medicaid/SCHIP through the city’s Medicaid-only offices, directly through a private or non- profit health plan, or through a facilitated enrollment agency (which includes some of the health plans). SCHIP applications may also be mailed, but then require a face-to-face eligibility interview conducted by a Medicaid-only eligibility worker at the welfare office or a facilitated enroller in a non-welfare office setting. Medicaid/SCHIP applicants are not required to go through the EVR and home visit, or be fingerprinted.