Food Stamps and Immigrants

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Spanish / EspaƱol


March 2004

The Food Stamp Program's goal is to prevent hunger in America. Food stamps help buy food in stores, at farmers' markets, and in other places. The Food Stamp Program is for people with a low income. The program can help people who are homeless. You do not need to have children to get food stamps. People who are not disabled or on welfare can get food stamps. Many people work and get food stamps.

What Is the Difference Between Food Stamps and Food Assistance?
They are the same. The Department of Human Services now calls the Food Stamp Program the Food Assistance Program. This is because Iowa now issues food stamps using "debit cards." At most grocery stores, you can now use your food assistance card just like a debit card to buy food. Look for the "QUEST" sign at your grocery store to be sure they accept the food stamps/ food assistance debit card.

Can Someone Who Is Not a Citizen Get Food Stamps?
Yes. Many, but not all, immigrants can get food stamps. The household must meet income and resource limits. All persons who will get food stamps must be considered "qualified immigrants."If you are an immigrant, you can get food stamps if you are:

  • A child under 18 who is lawfully in the United States;
  • A lawful permanent resident and in the United States for the past 5 years;
  • A battered spouse or child with a pending or approved self-petition for an immigrant visa,
  • A battered spouse or child who applied for cancellation of removal/suspension of deportation;
  • Granted refugee or asylum status or withholding of deportation/removal;
  • A Cuban or Haitian entrant, or Amerasian immigrant;
  • Someone who gets disability benefits through a number of state or federal programs including the Social Security Administration;
  • A person born before August 22, 1931 and who was lawfully residing in the U.S. before August 22, 1996;
  • A Hmong and Laotian tribe member who is lawfully in the U.S; or
  • A veteran or person on active military duty whose spouse and children are eligible for food stamps.

Who Cannot Get Food Stamps?
While many low-income persons can get food stamps, some people cannot get food stamps. You cannot get food stamps if you:

  • Live in a hospital, jail or another institution that serves meals.
  • Are enrolled in a college and do not work 20 hours per week, do not get federal money, or are under 18 or over 50, or getting welfare (FIP).
  • Are on strike, unless you were eligible before going on strike.
  • Were convicted of a drug felony for conduct after August 22, 1996.
  • Are an undocumented immigrant or certain adult legal immigrant who has not been in the United States for 5 years.
  • Are unemployed and able-bodied between the ages of 18 and 50, have no children, and already got 3 months of benefits during the past 36 month period while unemployed.

What If My Family Has Qualified and Non-qualified Aliens In It?
Many families have both qualified and non-qualified alien members. Food Stamps go to a "household." This means one person living alone or a group of people living together who:
1. Buy their food together, and
2. Prepare meals together.

The people in the household do not have to be related. There can be two or more households in the same house and each of these households can get its own food stamps. A household may be able to get food stamps for its qualified household members and U.S. citizens. Any non-qualified aliens will not be able to get food stamps. Here is an example, which we will call the "Gonzales" family.

  • Maria is the mother. She is a Lawful Permanent Resident, and has been living in the United States since January 1, 1996.
  • Juan is her husband. He has been in the U.S. for a year and is lawfully present with a work permit. He would be considered a non-qualifying alien.
  • They have a daughter, Gabrielle. She was born in the United States and is a US citizen.
  • Maria works part-time as an aide at a Head Start program. When Juan can get work he is employed by a roofing company, but that only happens once in a while. Their income and resources are under food stamp program guidelines.

Maria and Gabrielle would qualify for food stamps. Juan cannot get food stamps since his status is different, and is not on the "qualifying alien" list. The Gonzales household of Maria and Gabrielle could apply for food stamps but must report ALL of the household's income, including what Juan earns. The Gonzales family also must cooperate. This means working with the Iowa Department of Human Services in ways such as:

  • providing pay stubs;
  • letting the Iowa Department of Human Services check with employers;
  • reporting changes in income or assets; and
  • sending in a monthly report if the Iowa Department of Human Services asks for it.

Maria must list her immigration status, but they do not have to tell about Juan's status. He is not eligible for food stamps.

How Do I Get Food Stamps?
First you need to apply. Go to your county Department of Human Services office. It will be listed in your local telephone book. Look under "State and County Government" for Department of Human Services or Human Services. You can also call the state Department of Human Services to find out. The telephone number is 1-800-972-2017 or call 515-281-6899. If you want to see the application before going to the office, you can find it in English and Spanish on the Internet at:

Iowa Department of Human Services offices have the forms you need. You must also cooperate with the Iowa Department of Human Services. They will verify your information.

As mentioned before, you will be applying for food stamps for a household of people who qualify for the program. If someone in your family is not a member of the household that can get food stamps, you do not have to say anything about that person but you do have to include that person's income.

When you apply, you must sign a statement saying either:

  • Every person in the household who will get food stamps is a US citizen; OR
  • What the immigration or naturalization status is for any household members who are not US citizens, for all those who are going to get food stamps.

You must provide your Social Security number. Those who do not have a Social Security number cannot get food stamps. You must also register for work unless you are exempt. People who are not going to get food stamps do not need to give a Social Security number.

Must the Iowa Department of Human Services Help Me In My Own Language?
Yes, in most cases. Federal law and food stamp rules say the Iowa Department of Human Services (IDHS) must provide services and important notices in your language. If a language is not common in Iowa, the rules are more flexible. For people who use English, important notices should be in English. For people who use Spanish, important notices should be in Spanish. Spanish versions of notices and forms to apply for the program should be available to all who ask for them. Each Iowa Department of Human Services office should have interpreters. You should not have to bring anyone to interpret for you.

Once I've Applied, How Long Will It Take to Get My Food Stamps?
If you qualify, you will get food stamps within 30 days of the date your local Food Stamp Office gets your application.

What If I Need Food Stamps Right Away?
Some people can qualify for Expedited Food Stamps, and get food stamps within seven calendar days. To get expedited food stamps, you must have less than $150 in monthly gross income and $100 or less in liquid assets, or have to pay more than your income and assets for monthly rent or mortgage and utilities. Some migrant or seasonal farm workers who are destitute and have less than $100 in resources may also be able to get Expedited Food Stamps.

Will Getting Food Stamps Hurt My Chance of Becoming a U.S. Citizen?
No! Many immigrants do not use the food stamp program because they think it would look like they are just here to be get benefits from the government and hurt their chances of becoming a citizen. This is not true. Getting food stamps, WIC or free/reduced price school breakfast or lunch now or in the past will not count against you. Getting food assistance will NOT be held against a person who applies for citizenship.

Can I Get Help On the Internet?
Yes. The Iowa Department of Human Services plans to put the form to apply for food stamps online in English this year. If you have access to the Internet, you can find out if you might be able to get food stamps at or This page will tell you if you meet the rules for the Food Stamp Program. It will estimate the amount of food stamps that you might get. The Iowa Legal Aid web site has more details on food stamps at

What Can I Do If I Have a Problem Getting Food Stamps?
Most of the time, people who qualify do not have any problems when they apply for and get food stamps. However, there are times when people are wrongfully denied food stamps, do not get the proper amount, or may be canceled when they should not. If you applied for food stamps and the Department has not acted on it promptly, or if you are turned down for food stamps and believe you may be eligible, you should contact one of the regional offices of Iowa Legal Aid to ask for legal help. Call 1-800-532-1275 for the toll-free telephone number of the office serving your county. You can also go to for the information.

Last Review and Update: Mar 30, 2004

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