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Immigrants’ Eligibility for U.S. Public Benefits: A Primer

Expanded access to public benefits in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic vividly highlighted how such programs can reduce poverty for families and children. The end of the public-health emergency, announced on May 11, 2023, signaled a return to standard eligibility rules and brought a significant loss of access to support for many low-income individuals and families, including immigrants.

In this moment of flux, it is important for service providers and others assisting the nation’s immigrants to understand the complex rules governing noncitizens’ access to public benefits—something that varies both by immigration status and across programs.

This report provides an overview of immigrants’ eligibility for programs and services related to general assistance, health and nutrition, employment and income, education, housing, and driver’s licenses, according to the standard eligibility rules that are back in force. While the focus is on federal eligibility rules, the report also highlights how some programs have state or locally funded equivalents that extend to a broader population, taking California, Illinois, and the Houston metropolitan area as examples. Finally, the report includes a look at the needs and benefits eligibility of the nation’s large Latino immigrant community.