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SNAP/Food Stamps for Legal Permanent Residents

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed July 2022

I have a “green card.”  Can I get SNAP?

If you have a green card, you are a Lawful Permanent Resident or an “LPR.”  Many LPRs who are low income can get SNAP. Some LPR adults need to have a green card for 5 years before they can get SNAP.

But, there is no 5-year wait for:

  • Kids with a green card who are under 18.

  • LPR adults who get a disability-based benefit (like EAEDC, TAFDC, or MassHealth for people with disabilities).

  • LPRs who:

    • have enough work history,

    • have a spouse with enough work history,

    • whose parents worked enough in the United States before the LPR turned 18, or

    • had certain immigration statuses before getting a green card.

Can my LPR or citizen kids get SNAP even if I can't?

Yes!  LPR and United States citizen children can get SNAP without any waiting period. You can always apply for your kids even if you must wait 5 years to become eligible or your status does not meet program rules. However, even if you are not eligible you still need to tell DTA about your income.

What kind of special work history do I need so that I do not have to wait five years?

If you are an LPR and told you have to wait five years, you do not have to wait if you have 10 years (40 calendar quarters) of work history. You do not have to have earned a lot of money for you to claim work history. The 10 years of work history can include work you did in the United States and work that your spouse did if you are still married.  It also includes work that your parents did before you turned age 18, even if you are an adult now. Work history in certain countries outside of the US also counts.

DTA will ask you about any work history you have in the United States and they can double check this with Social Security.  Be sure to tell them if your spouse or your parents have work history. It does not affect your spouse or parents to count their work history to help you get SNAP. 

If you need more time to get proof of work history, DTA should give you 6 months of SNAP while they and you work on getting enough proof. 

I used to have a different immigration status before I got my green card.  How does that affect my benefits?

Some LPR immigrants first entered the United States as a refugee or other special status. If you are an LPR now, but you had a special “qualified” status before, you do not need to wait 5 years to get SNAP. These special “qualified” statuses include

  • Cuban/Haitian entrants.
  • Asylees.
  • Refugees,
  • Certain Amerasians.
  • Iraqi and Afghan SIV holders,
  • Immigrants who are Victims of Human Trafficking or who have been granted Withholding of Deportation.
  • Afghan evacuees paroled into the US between July 31, 2021 and September 30, 2022 plus some family members paroled after Sept. 30, 2022).
  • Ukrainians paroled into the US between February 24, 2022 and Sept. 30, 2023.

Will SNAP hurt my chances of getting a green card or becoming a citizen?

No.  SNAP will not affect your chances of getting a green card or becoming a US citizen.SNAP is not "cash assistance benefits".

See the "public charge" information on the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services website and the joint letter from the United States Food and Nutrition Service and Department of Homeland Security.

How can I get SNAP if I don’t speak English?

You have the right to apply for SNAP in the language you prefer. DTA is required to provide you with interpreters for appointments and send you letters in your primary language.  If you don’t understand what workers are telling you, and they refuse to get you an interpreter, call an advocate!  

If I work can I still get SNAP?

Many low wage workers qualify for SNAP. The amount of your benefits depends on the size of your family, how much income you have, and your expenses. The amount of your rent,  childcare cost, child support you pay and medical bills (if you or someone you get SNAP with are age 60 or older or get a disability benefit)  are taken into account when figuring out your benefits. The immigration status of other members of your family and how long they have had that status can also make a difference. If you have a low income, it is worth applying!

Even if you do not have an immigration status that makes you eligible, you can always apply for your children if they are United States citizens or have another status that makes them eligible.

What if I was sponsored by a relative? 

Some immigrants get their LPR status through a family member (sponsor) – who may have signed a contract (an affidavit of support) agreeing to support them. If your family member who sponsored you provides you with regular income, this income will count in determining your benefits, along with any other income you have. If you are low income and your family member who sponsored you does not provide you with regular income, then their income does not count.  

The same rules apply to LPRs who qualify for cash benefits (TAFDC or EAEDC).

Next steps

More information about getting SNAP if you are an immigrant is in the SNAP Advocacy Guide.

If you think you may be eligible, you can apply for SNAP at DTA. You can appeal if you are  denied or turned away. 

Use the Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder to try to find a free advocate who can help.

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Before you talk to USCIS always speak with an Immigration Specialist.

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