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Ukrainian refugees can now access SNAP & other critical benefits

junio 8, 2022

The war in Ukraine has displaced millions who have sought refuge in the United States. As they began to arrive in late February, some were faced with the stark reality that they were ineligible for critical benefits including SNAP (known as CalFresh in California and formerly as food stamps).  

They were ineligible because they had only been granted Humanitarian Parole by Customs and Border Protection for fewer than 365 days, in many cases 364 days (immigrants must be granted at least 365 days of Humanitarian Parole to qualify for certain federal benefits, such as SNAP). 

As more cases of of refugees ineligible for nutrition support emerged across California, we began working with Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organization, and CalFresh advocates to raise this issue to Speaker Pelosi and other key members of Congress. 

We asked for two policy fixes to support our newest neighbors as they resettled in the United States:

  1. Ensure all incoming Ukrainians are given a minimum of 365 days humanitarian parole and that their I-94s accurately reflect so.
  2. Retroactively approve the extra days necessary for all Ukrainians who already entered the United States and were given I-94s with less than a year of Humanitarian Parole.

Thanks to advocates and the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, the House and Senate passed the United for Ukrainians emergency package — which includes language authorizing federal benefits (SNAP, TANF, SSI, etc) for Ukrainians granted Humanitarian Parole. It was signed into law by President Biden on May 21. The language in the legislation means they will qualify on the same basis as asylees and refugees, without a five-year waiting period.

Under provisions in the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, people listed below meet the immigration-related eligibility requirement to enroll in SNAP and other benefit programs without being subject to a five-year waiting period, and they continue to meet the immigration-related eligibility requirement to enroll in programs for as long as they are granted parole. 

  • Citizens or nationals of Ukraine granted parole status between February 24, 2022 and September 30, 2023 
  • Spouses or children of such Ukrainian citizens or nationals granted parole status after September 30, 2023 
  • The parents, legal guardians, or primary caregivers of a Ukrainian citizen or national determined to be an unaccompanied child and are granted parole status after September 30, 2023

We appreciate this policy fix, however, it does not solve the larger policy issue at hand – the need to end the cruel five-year bar and immigrant restrictions from the 1996 Welfare Reform Act (aka PRWORA). The Ukrainian crisis further highlighted how critical it is for newly arriving immigrants and refugees to access benefits they need without a waiting period and without the narrow qualifying parameters that leave many out. Congress must  ensure non–U.S. citizens who are lawfully present in the U.S., including people with “green cards” have access to the resources necessary to reestablish their lives.

Now is the time to allow families to access critical and life-saving benefits. The Lifting Immigrant Families Through Benefits Access Restoration Act (LIFT the BAR Act) expands healthcare, nutrition assistance, and other critical support programs to immigrants by:

  • Eliminating the five-year waiting period for access to Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,  Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Security Program
  • Repealing key provisions of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 that restrict eligibility, erect barriers, and deter access to critical services for immigrants with sponsors
  • Including any individual who is lawfully present in the U.S. in the definition of “qualified noncitizen,” which is used to determine eligibility for many federal programs
  • Restoring flexibilities for states and localities to provide benefits to immigrants with their own funds

When individuals have access to basic services like healthcare, housing, and food, not only do communities thrive but local economies get stronger. 

Access to food is a basic human right no matter which country you come from. We call on Congress to pass the LIFT the BAR Act and restore eligibility to federal public benefit programs that provide essential support to individuals and families. 

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