Changes in the Food Stamp Program Make More Legal Immigrants
Eligible for Benefits
I am not a United States citizen. Can I get food stamps?
- You may be eligible now if you are a legal permanent resident
and you have been in the United States in qualified status for 5
years. People who came to the United States as refugees and some types
of immigrants are eligible right away. You may also be eligible
if you are a legal permanent resident, and (1) you are now receiving
disability payments or (2) if you, your spouse, or your parents,
have a record of working in the United States for 10 years. (The
food stamp office will be able to help determine if you have worked
the required amount of time.) Starting Oct. 1, 2003, children
with qualified status will be eligible as soon as they get this
What changes were made?
- On May 13, 2002, President Bush signed a law – the "Farm Security
and Rural Investment Act of 2002" that will allow more low-income
non-citizen and legal immigrants to receive food stamps if they meet
the Food Stamp Program’s income and resource requirements.
When does the new law go into effect?
- Some legal immigrants affected by the 2002 law will be eligible to
receive food stamp benefits as early as Oct. 1, 2002, but most will
not be eligible until later. The information below explains more about
when eligibility starts.
- The 2002 law allows eligibility for legal immigrants who meet the
program’s requirements, AND who:
-- are receiving disability benefits (such as SSI or disability-related
Medicaid) (eligibility for this group started Oct. 1, 2002);
-- have lived in the United States for 5 years in a qualified
status (eligibility for this group started April 1, 2003); or
-- are under 18 years old and entered the United States after
Aug. 22, 1996 (eligibility for this group starts Oct. 1, 2003).
Which immigrants are in a qualified status?
- Qualified immigrants include lawful permanent residents (holders of
green cards), refugees, asylees, people granted withholding of deportation
or removal, Cuban/Haitian entrants, individuals who have received INS
parole in the United States for a least one year, conditional entrants,
and certain victims of domestic violence.
Does the law change the rules for immigrants who are already eligible?
- No. Everyone who was eligible before continues to be eligible now.
Does the law extend eligibility for non-citizens who are in the country
for humanitarian reasons?
- Yes. As a result of the 2002 law, there will no longer be a seven-year
limit on food stamps for refugees, asylees, Amerasians, and Cuban or
Haitian entrants. Beginning on April 1, 2003, these non-citizens are eligible as long as they qualify for the program based on income
Will the Food Stamp Program decide if I have a disability?
- No. You have to be receiving benefits or assistance from a program,
such as Medicaid, because you are blind or disabled.
Can I receive benefits for my citizen children even if I am not an eligible
- Yes. You will not have to provide documents about yourself when you
apply for your children or other eligible persons in your household.
However, you will still have to show proof of your income and resources
so the worker can determine the amount of the food stamp benefits for
Will receiving food stamps hurt me if I want to become a citizen?
- No. Receiving food stamps does not make an immigrant a "public
charge" – meaning an immigrant to the United States will not be
deported, denied entry to the country, or denied permanent status or
a "green card" because he or she receives food stamps.
How can I apply or learn more?
- To get food stamps, you have to file an application at your local
food stamp office, which is usually located with the local welfare office.
- To get more information, please call your local food stamp office
listed in the blue pages of the phone book under "social services
department" or "welfare department" or call the national
toll-free number at 1-800-221-5689.
- Spanish-speaking operators are available at the national toll-free
Information on this page is provided for historical reference
and may not reflect recent policy or legislative changes. Please refer to
for the latest information on SNAP policy and legislative changes.