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Issue Alert - 03-03-09

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Apr 01, 2003

Issue Summary:

Qualified immigrants who have been in the U.S. legally for 5 years may now be eligible for Food Assistance.

Persons Affected:

Immigrants who have been in the U.S. as “qualified aliens” for at least 5 years consecutively.


Food Assistance Program (FAP)

What's Happening?

Effective 04/01/03, immigrants who have been in the U.S. with “qualified alien” status for at least 5 consecutive years may be eligible to receive FAP. In October 2002, disabled legal immigrants became eligible to receive FAP regardless of the date they entered the United States. (“Disabled” means the person either receives a disability benefit - SSI, RSDI, disability-related Medicaid, or Railroad benefits based on disability or blindness - or is a disabled veteran or a surviving child or spouse of a veteran and is considered disabled by the VA. See PEM 225.) Sponsor Deeming"Sponsor deeming" means that FIA counts the income of an immigrant's sponsor when determining the immigrant's eligibility for food assistance, regardless of whether the immigrant actually receives financial help from the sponsor. Sponsor deeming applies to some legal immigrants who will become eligible for FAP because they have been in the U.S. for 5 years. Only immigrants who are sponsored and whose sponsors signed a legally binding affidavit of support after December 19, 1997, called an I-864 form, may be subject to deeming. There are many exemptions to deeming. The following immigrants are not subject to deeming:-Immigrants who do not have sponsors. Generally, this includes immigrants who entered the U.S. for reasons other than family reunification. Immigrants who enter the U.S. for humanitarian reasons do not have sponsors.-Immigrants whose sponsor has not signed a binding affidavit of support. This includes all immigrants except those whose sponsors signed a binding affidavit of support on or after December 19, 1997.-Immigrants who have accumulated 40 Social Security Credits. Generally, individuals can earn up to 4 credits per year, which means it usually requires at least 10 years of work to accumulate 40 credits. Individuals may accumulate 40 credits faster by counting credits earned by a spouse or parent. (Children may only count credits earned by their parents when they were under age 18.) In addition, individuals may earn Social Security Credits while they are working illegally in the U.S. If an immigrant has worked in the U.S. in the past using a fake Social Security number, they may contact the Social Security Administration to have those Credits reassigned to their legal Social Security number. They will simply need to have their former employer verify that they in fact worked under that Social Security number.-Battered spouse or child. Deeming does not apply during any year in which the sponsored immigrant is a battered spouse, battered child or parent, or child of a battered person, provided the battered immigrant lives in a separate household from the abuser.-A sponsored immigrant who lives in the same Food Stamp household as the sponsor.-Indigent immigrants. Sponsored immigrants who have income below 130% of poverty (counting the sponsored immigrant's income and any income the sponsor actually provides) are not subject to deeming. This determination must be made every year. This exemption should be used as a last resort, because FIA must report all indigent exemptions to the U.S. Attorney General. It is not clear for what purpose the U.S. Attorney General requires this information.Deeming continues until the sponsored immigrant becomes a naturalized citizen or accumulates 40 Social Security Credits. Sponsor Liability“Sponsor liability” means that a sponsor who has signed a binding affidavit of support may be legally responsible to reimburse the state for any Food Assistance benefits the sponsored immigrant receives. State agencies are required to “request reimbursement” from sponsors who signed affidavits of support after December 19, 1997 for benefits the sponsored immigrant receives. If the sponsor does not reimburse those benefits, state agencies may take legal action to recoup the benefits. State agencies are not required to take legal action, nor do they have any fiscal incentive to do so. States do not retain any portion of benefits they successfully recoup, and sponsor liability is not subject to quality control review.

What Should Advocates Do?

Advocates should reach out to clients who may become eligible for Food Assistance under this restoration and encourage them to apply for benefits. Organizations serving immigrants and/or providing emergency food are good places to start. Advocates should also help their newly eligible clients understand sponsor deeming and help them figure out if they should be exempt from deeming.A final immigrant restoration will occur in October 2003, so advocates should begin reaching out to all of the legal immigrant families they work with who are in need of assistance. In October 2003, all legal immigrant children will become eligible. (Deeming will not apply to any children once this restoration takes effect.) Advocates should make sure their immigrant clients know that if they receive Food Assistance, this will not make them a “public charge” by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and that receiving Food Assistance will not affect their ability to become a citizen. Advocates should also be sure that their clients know that persons who do not want benefits for themselves (e.g. undocumented immigrants) are not required to provide FIA with their Social Security number, but they will have to provide information about their income. Visit the “Pamphlets” page of to download updated pamphlets that describe the new immigrant restorations in FAP. Refer clients who want more information or an estimate of the benefits for which they are eligible can call CCJ's toll-free Food Stamp helpline at 1-800-481-4989.

What Should Clients Do?

All immigrants who have been in the U.S. legally for at least 5 years consecutively should apply for FAP as soon as possible. Even if they reside with undocumented immigrants or other immigrants who cannot receive FAP, the immigrants who have been here for 5 years can still receive benefits. Household members who are not allowed to receive FAP for themselves, but want to apply for someone else in their household such as children or a spouse, do not have to provide a Social Security number, but they will have to provide information about their income. Clients can contact the Food Stamp Helpline, 1-800-481-4989 for more information. The Helpline is able to help Spanish-speaking and undocumented callers.

Finding Help

Most legal aid and legal services office handle these type of cases, and they do not charge a fee. You can locate the "free" legal services or legal aid office that serves your county on the Michigan LawHelp website ( or look in the yellow pages under "attorneys" or call the toll-free lawyer referral number, (800) 968-0738