Food Assistance and Immigrants
The Food Assistance Program helps prevent hunger in America. This program helps buy food in stores, at farmers’ markets, and in other places. The Food Assistance Program is for people with low income. The program can help people who are homeless. You don’t need to have children to get food assistance. People who are not disabled or on welfare can get food assistance. Many people work and get food assistance.
The Food Assistance Program is known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP benefits are given to those who qualify each month on a card called an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT). Your EBT will work just like a debit card, all you have to do is swipe.
Can Someone Who is not a Citizen Get Food Assistance?
Yes. Many, but not all immigrants can get food assistance. The household must meet income and resource limits. All persons who will get food assistance must be considered qualified immigrants. If you are an immigrant and not a citizen, you can food assistance if:
- You are a Lawfully Admitted Resident for Permanent Residence (LPRs) and have lived in the US for 5 years
- You are granted asylum under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), Section 208
- You are a Parolee who was paroled under Section 212(d)(5) of the INA for at least one year
- You are a Cuban or Haitian entrant; or Amerasian immigrant
- You are a battered spouse or child with a pending or approved self-petition for an immigrant visa
- You are a battered spouse or child who applied for cancellation of removal/suspension of deportation
- You are granted refugee or asylum status or withholding of deportation/removal
- You are a victim of trafficking under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000
- You are an Iraqi or Afghan Special Immigrant (SIV) under Section 101(a)(27) of the INA (You worked on behalf of the US government in Iraq or Afghanistan)
- You are a Hmong and Laotian tribe member who is lawfully in the US
- You are a veteran or person on active military duty whose spouse and children are eligible for food assistance
- You are a child under 18 who is lawfully in the US
- You are someone who gets disability benefits through a number of state or federal programs including the Social Security Administration
- You are a person born before August 22, 1931, and were lawfully residing in the US before August 22, 1996
Who Cannot Get Food Assistance
You cannot get food assistance if you:
- Live in a hospital, jail, or another institution that serves meals
- Are on strike, unless you were eligible the day before the strike and continue to be eligible at the time you apply
- Have been convicted of a drug felony. However, most states including Iowa have changed their laws and many drug felons may be eligible.
- Are an undocumented immigrant or certain adult legal immigrant who has not been in the US for 5 years
- Are an able bodied but jobless adult without children or a disability working less than 20 hours per week
What If My Family Has Qualified and Non-Qualified Immigrants In It?
Many families have both qualified and non-qualified immigrant members. Food Assistance goes to a “household” This means one person living alone or a group of people living together who:
- Buy their food together, and
- 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 assistance. A household may be able to get food assistance for its qualified household members and US citizens. Any non-qualified immigrants will not be able to get food assistance. 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 US since January 1, 2006.
- Juan is her husband. He has been in the US for a year and is lawfully present with a work permit. He would be considered a non-qualifying immigrant.
- They have a daughter, Gabrielle. She was born in the US 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 assistance program guidelines.
Maria and Gabrielle would qualify for food assistance. Juan cannot get food assistance since his status is different, and is not on the “qualifiying aliens” list. The Gonzales household of Maria and Gabrielle could apply for food assistance but must report ALL of the household’s income, including Juan’s earnings. The Gonzales family also must cooperate, which means working with the Iowa Department of Human Services by:
- Providing pay stubs
- Letting the Iowa Department of Human Services check with employers
- Reporting changes in income or assets
- Sending in a monthly report if the Iowa Department of Human Services asks for it
Maria must list her immigration status, but the household doesn’t have to report Juan’s status as he is not eligible for food assistance. An important thing to remember is that the state may not deny an entire household just because a non-citizen member is ineligible due to their immigration status.
How to Apply for Food Assistance
One way to apply is online. Iowa’s Department of Human Services website as an online DHS Financial Support Application. You may also download the application, print it out, and fill and send the application to your local DHS office. These applications are available in Spanish as well. You may also call the Iowa DHS at (800)-972-2017. They will be able to point you in the right directions in regards to getting and completing your application. When you do apply, you will have to sign a statement saying either:
- Every person in the household who will get food assistance is a US Citizen; OR
- What the immigration or naturalization status is for any household members who are not US citizens who are going to get food assistance
Must the Iowa Department of Human Services Help Me In My Own Language?
Yes, in most cases. Federal law and food assistance rules say the Iowa DHS 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 are available online, and should be available at your local DHS office as well. Each office should have interpreters available as well.
Once I’ve Applied, How Long Will It Take to Get My Food Assistance?
If you qualify, you will get food assistance within 30 days of the date your local office gets your application.
What if I Need Food Assistance Right Away?
Some people can qualify for emergency food assistance within 7 days of applying. This includes households with less than $150 in monthly gross income and $100 or less in cash or a bank account; households with rent, mortgage and utilities that are more than the household’s gross monthly income and assets; or households with a migrant or seasonal farm worker with assets of less than $100 whose income is stopping or starting.
Will Getting Food Assistance Affect My Immigration Status?
A recent law states that receiving public assistance like food assistance can affect a person’s immigration status. This law does not apply to all immigrants. This law mainly impacts those seeking permanent resident status through family member petitions. Many immigrant categories are exempt from this law, including U visa holders, T visa holders, asylees, refugees and many more. If you have questions about this issue, you should talk to an immigration attorney.
What Can I Do If I Have a Problem Getting Food Assistance
If you applied for food assistance and the Department has not acted on it promptly (within 30 days unless you request expedited food food assistance), or if you are turned down for food assistance and believe you may be eligible, you should contact Iowa Legal Aid to ask for legal help.
Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans.
To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:
- Call 800-532-1275.
- Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
- Apply online at iowalegalaid.org
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website iowabar.org. A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.