What Are the Potential Public Benefits Claims?
Farmworker victims of sexual violence may be forced into greater poverty by the threat of future violence or by losing financial income or support that was previously available. In these situations, public benefits can be a bridge that allows victims to be safe from continued sexual violence, access needed medical care and gain additional resources and support. Public benefits may be a new concept to some farmworkers; they may require information about the application process and the possible negative immigration impact of accessing certain public benefits. Attorneys should have a working knowledge of the eligibility requirements of each type of public benefit available and be prepared to refer victims to an attorney who specializes in public benefits when necessary.
Please note that the information presented below does not address individuals who may have refugee, asylee and various other immigration statuses. Similarly, many of the benefits listed below have income eligibility that is not described here.
Benefits Available to All Regardless of Immigration Status
- Women, Infants and Children (WIC): Families must have a child less than six years of age to receive free food vouchers and referrals to doctors and clinics.
- Minor Consent Services Programs: Some states have programs that provide services to teenagers from age 12-21 including services related to sexual assault, pregnancy, family planning and sexually transmitted infections. Minor victims should be informed about mandatory reporting laws when seeking such services.
- Medicaid: Each state has slightly different Medicaid programs and eligibility. Many states allow Medicaid coverage for pregnant women regardless of immigration status.
- Community Clinics: Many different forms of health care may be available at low-cost community clinics that are funded locally. Healthcare clinics specific to migrant farmworkers also exist in some communities. Advocates should have knowledge of these facilities, including eligibility requirements, costs involved in obtaining medical care and hours of operation and be prepared to refer clients for services.
- In addition to the above benefits, many programs allow benefits to be obtained on behalf of qualified minor children, regardless of the parent’s immigration status (e.g. cash-aid, general assistance, food stamps).
Additional Benefits Available to “Qualified” Immigrants and U.S. Citizens
- Medicaid: State Medicaid programs are available to provide coverage for nearly all health-related expenses for eligible applicants. It is important that applicants apply at the time they are receiving services if they do not already have the benefit.
- General Assistance/General Relief: This is a state program typically only available for a short time and to those applicants who have minimal income.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps): Food stamps are used to purchase food items at most grocery stores; they are provided in the form of coupons or an Electronic Benefits Card.
- Unemployment Insurance Benefits: Farmworkers who lose their job due to no fault of their own, including victims who lose their job or are forced out of their work because of sexual violence may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.
- Mental Health Services, Supplemental Security Income, Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI), In Home Support Services: Many additional services are available to applicants who may be disabled and need special assistance. That can include special services and income supplements.
- What public benefits are offered by my state?
- What are the eligibility requirements?
- What impact can receiving benefits have on an individual’s immigration application?
- Are there any provisions related to victims of violence?
- Where would my clients go to make their applications for benefits? What are the hours of operation? Are interpreter services readily available?
- To whom in my community can I refer clients for public benefit legal assistance?
The receipt of some public benefits may deem the recipient a “public charge” and thereby affect the recipient’s immigration status. Below is general guidance; you should always obtain the advice of an immigration attorney.
- Typically, use of Medicaid programs or other health services by an applicant or her family members will not affect the public charge decision unless the government funds are used to pay for long-term care in a nursing facility.
- Food stamps, WIC and other non-cash programs will not affect the public charge decision.
- Benefits that provide cash income to the applicant or the applicant’s family may affect the public charge decision. Seek further advice from an immigration expert.