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Recent Changes in Food Stamp Eligibility for Immigrants: The 2002 Farm Bill

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Since 1996, most low-income immigrants have been unable to receive food stamps under federal law. However, recent passage of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act ("The Farm Bill") has restored food stamp benefits to certain categories of immigrants. Under these changes, an estimated 400,000 additional immigrants will be able to receive food stamp benefits in the next few years.


How has the law regarding food stamps for immigrants changed?
Prior to 1996, most legal immigrants were eligible for food stamps. However, with passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 ("PRWORA"), food stamps were no longer available to most low-income legal immigrants. On May 13, 2002, President Bush signed into law the Farm Bill, which restores food stamp benefits for legal immigrants who have resided in the U.S. for five years, legal immigrant children and legal immigrants with disabilities. These restorations will be phased in between October 1, 2002 and October 1, 2003.


Who will qualify for food stamps under the new law?
Not everyone who was eligible for food stamps before 1996 will be able to receive them again under the Farm Bill. However, there are three categories of immigrants who will be eligible for food stamps under the new law:

  • Legal immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for five years. Under the Farm Bill, if you have legally resided in the U.S. for the past five years, you will be able to receive food stamps.
  • Legal immigrant children. If you are an immigrant child under the age of 18 or the parent of an immigrant child under the age of 18, you will be able to receive food stamps for that child if he or she is a lawful resident of the United States.
  • Legal immigrants with disabilities. If you are a lawful resident of the U.S. and receive a disability benefit, you will be eligible for food stamps. Examples of disability benefits are Supplemental Security Income (SSI), disability-related medical assistance, disability-based general assistance, disability-related Medicaid, or disability assistance awarded to veterans or spouses and children of veterans.


Who will NOT qualify for food stamps under the new law?
Under the Farm Bill, the only group of legal immigrants who will NOT qualify for food stamps are adults who arrived within the past five years and do not currently receive a "disability benefit." However, once you have been a legal resident in the U.S. for five years, you can then apply for food stamps.


When does the new law take effect?
The restoration of food stamp benefits under the Farm Bill will take place between October 1, 2002 and October 1, 2003. The benefits for each of the three categories will begin on the following dates:

  • Legal immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for five years. Food stamp benefits will be restored on April 1, 2003. This means if you were lawfully residing in the U.S. on April 1, 1998, you will be eligible to receive food stamps in April 2003.
  • Legal immigrant children. Food stamp benefits will be restored on October 1, 2003. This means any immigrant child who is lawfully residing in the U.S. on October 1, 2003 will be eligible to receive food stamps at that time.
  • Legal immigrants with disabilities. Food stamp benefits will be restored on October 1, 2002. This means any immigrant who receives a disability benefit and is lawfully residing in the U.S. on October 1, 2002 will be eligible to receive food stamps at that time.


Is there any other way I can qualify for food stamps?
Yes. You may also be eligible for food stamps if:

  • You worked forty "qualifying quarters."
    If you are a lawful permanent resident and have been employed in the U.S. for forty quarters (approximately ten years), you are eligible for food stamps.
  • You were granted asylum or refugee status. If you have been granted asylum or refugee status, you are eligible for food stamps regardless of when you arrived in the U.S.
  • You are a Cuban or Haitian entrant. If you have been granted legal permission to reside in the U.S. as a Cuban or Haitian entrant, you are eligible for food stamps regardless of when you arrived in the U.S.
  • You were granted withholding of deportation/cancellation of removal. If you have been granted withholding of deportation or cancellation of removal, you are eligible for food stamps regardless of when you arrived in the U.S.
  • You are a victim of domestic violence. Certain types of victims of domestic violence may be eligible to receive food stamps. Consult an attorney to see if you qualify under this provision.


I am a member of one of the three restored categories but I have received food stamps in the past several years. Will I continue to receive them?
Possibly. After 1996, a number of states provided state food stamp benefits to certain groups of immigrants that the federal law no longer covered. However, these state funds are subject to yearly budgetary review and may be cut at any time. Iowa was not one of the states that provided non-federal food stamp benefits.


How do I apply for food stamps?
Go to the nearest Iowa Department of Health and Human Services Office and fill out an application. Iowa has applications in Spanish and English. Some people with emergencies may be able to get emergency food stamps within 7 days of an application. Other persons applying will be told within 30 days if they are eligible.


What if I am told I cannot receive food stamps?
Even if you fall into one of the above categories, you must meet certain financial criteria in order to be eligible for food stamps. If your application is denied, ask why. You have a right to appeal. You can also contact your local Iowa Legal Aid office for help.

Last Review and Update: Mar 24, 2003
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