The Application Process For TANF, Food Stamps, Medicaid, and SCHIP. Non-Citizen Eligibility Restrictions


After PRWORA, most post-enactment legal immigrants (those who arrived in this country after August 22, 1996) are not eligible for federally-funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, and SCHIP2 during their first five years in the country. States have discretion to decide whether to extend the bar to include pre-enactment legal immigrants.3 PRWORA also dropped food stamp eligibility for legal immigrant adults, regardless of date of entry, until they naturalize or prove that they (or their spouse or parents) worked in the country for a combined total of at least ten years. Finally, PRWORA exempted refugees during their first five years in the country and a few other small classes of immigrants from these legal immigrant eligibility bars.4

The federal government subsequently enacted partial restorations of legal immigrants' eligibility for food stamps in a piecemeal fashion. In 1998 Congress restored food stamp eligibility to children and disabled adults who entered the country before August 22, 1996, as well as to immigrants who had their 65th birthday before that date.5 At the time of our site visits, working-age legal immigrants entering before August 22, 1996 and adult legal immigrants entering after enactment remained ineligible, unless they could demonstrate 10 years of work history or meet other federal exemptions. In May 2002, Congress replaced the 10-year work requirement for legal immigrant adults with a five-year bar consistent with that for TANF, Medicaid and SCHIP, although these changes do not take effect until April 2003. Eligibility was also restored for all legal immigrant children, regardless of date of entry, effective October 2003.6

PRWORA's immigrant eligibility provisions apply to the expenditure of federal funds for these programs, but not to state funding. Some states have opted to use their own state dollars to extend substitute TANF, food stamp, Medicaid and/or SCHIP benefits to post-enactment legal immigrant families. For example, 16 states provide some form of food assistance for post-enactment legal permanent residents (Schwartz 2001), and 19 states provide TANF replacement programs. Twenty-three states fund Medicaid for post-enactment legal immigrants, and another three partially restore these health benefits (Zimmermann and Tumlin 1999).

Of the six states included in this study, only Washington fully provides eligibility for all four programs to post-enactment legal immigrants. In contrast, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia do not provide state-only funding for any of these benefits for families with children.7 New York and Missouri provide eligibility for some benefits, but not others (Exhibit 2-4). Missouri uses state-only funding to provide for post-enactment legal immigrants who are not eligible for TANF and extends food stamp eligibility to those non-citizens who receive cash assistance through this TANF replacement program. New York provides a state-funded replacement program for Medicaid and SCHIP as well as a variation of TANF cash assistance called Safety Net Assistance (SNA).8 In New York City, the SNA program provides vouchers for rent to legal non-citizens barred from the TANF program (which accounts for most of the monthly grant), and the remainder of the SNA benefit in cash.

Site TANF Food Stamps Medicaid SCHIP
Exhibit 2-4:
State-Funded Benefits for Post-Enactment Legal Immigrant Families with Children
(Study Sites, 2001)
Arlington, VA        
Dallas, TX        
New York, NY ü   ü ü
Raleigh, NC        
Seattle, WA ü ü ü ü
Sedalia, MO ü *    
*  In Missouri, post-enactment legal immigrants who receive state replacement TANF benefits are also eligible to receive state-funded food stamps. Post-enactment legal immigrantswho do not receive this state-funded cash assistance, however, are not eligible for the state-funded food stamp benefits.

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