CRS Report for Congress
Immigration-Related Welfare Provisions
in 105 Congress Legislation
Joyce Vialet, Education and Public Welfare Division
Larry M. Eig, American Law Division
In 1996, the 104th Congress made major changes in rules governing the eligibility
of noncitizens for public assistance. The 105th Congress subsequently addressed the
more controversial of these revisions, particularly the termination of benefits for aliens
who were already receiving them. Three new laws continue or restore SSI, Medicaid,
and food stamps for many beneficiaries. The period during which refugees may receive
assistance also was extended. CBO estimates that the cost of these modifications will
cut the estimated savings of the 1996 changes by more than half. Nevertheless, the basic
policy set by the 1996 law remains in place for aliens who enter after its enactment.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996
(PRWORA; P.L. 104-193) significantly restricted the eligibility of noncitizens for needs-
based public assistance. Before PRWORA, legal aliens who settled here generally
qualified for public assistance on the same basis as citizens did. However, PRWORA
discontinued this similar treatment. It bars most legal aliens, regardless of when they
arrived or whether they were already receiving benefits, from Supplemental Security
Income (SSI), which provides cash assistance for needy persons who are aged, blind, or
disabled, and from the Food Stamp Program. It further allows the states to limit alien
access to Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and activities
funded under Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). A separate PRWORA restriction bars
most legal aliens who arrive after August 22, 1996, from most programs defined as
means-tested for 5 years after arrival. Yet another restriction — one which requires a
sponsor to pledge support in a legally binding affidavit — may affect the TANF and
Medicaid eligibility of immigrants who applied for immigrant status after December 19,1

1997, on the basis of a family relationship.

1 See CRS Report 97-1054, Immigration: The New Affidavit of Support—Questions, Answers,
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

In setting forth its restrictions, PRWORA introduced the term “qualified aliens” into
law, a term that may be somewhat misleading because even most “qualified aliens” are
barred by PRWORA for much needs-based federal assistance.2 “Qualified aliens” roughly
corresponds to the classes of aliens who were eligible for assistance under earlier law.
Among “qualified aliens” are legal permanent residents, refugees, aliens paroled into the
United States for at least 1 year, aliens granted asylum or related relief, certain abused
spouses and children, and Cuban/Haitian entrants.
PRWORA’s changes in the alien eligibility rules proved controversial, particularly
those that would have terminated benefits for aliens who were already receiving them on
August 22, 1996, the date on which PRWORA became law. In response, the 105th
Congress passed three laws continuing or partially restoring SSI, Medicaid, and food
stamps to some previous beneficiaries. P.L. 105-33 “grandfathers” eligibility for SSI and
Medicaid for recipients who are “qualified aliens,” while P.L. 105-185 addresses
eligibility for food stamps. Meanwhile, P.L. 105-306 addresses the SSI and Medicaid
eligibility of certain recipients not already covered under P.L. 105-33. Additionally, the
105th Congress also expanded the period during which refugees may receive public
assistance. Noncitizen eligibility for SSI, Medicaid, and food stamps under the three acts
is summarized in Table 1.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the cost of these enactments at
$12.34 billion over 5 years. This amount is more than half of CBO’s estimate of the
reduction in federal outlays resulting from the noncitizen provisions of PRWORA —
$23.7 billion (over seven years). However, while expensive, these modifications are
limited in scope. Only three programs are substantially affected, and the modifications
primarily benefit noncitizens who were here before August 22, 1996. The restrictive
policy laid out in PRWORA remains essentially unchanged for most noncitizens entering
since then.
Noncitizen SSI and Medicaid Eligibility under P.L. 105-333
Eligibility for SSI and Medicaid eligibility was restored to some noncitizens under
P.L. 105-33, the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, signed on August 5, 1997. CBO estimated
the cost of the immigration-related provisions of the 1997 Act at $11.5 billion over the

5-year period 1998-2002 ($9.5 billion for SSI, $2 billion for Medicaid).

1 (...continued)
and Issues, by Joyce Vialet. For more information on current eligibility rules, see CRS Report

96-617, Alien Eligibility for Public Assistance, by Joyce C. Vialet and Larry M. Eig.

2 For example, special rules applying to refugees and asylees (including Cuban/Haitian entrants
and Amerasians) make them eligible for SSI, Medicaid, and food stamps for 7 years after entering
as refugees or being granted asylum, and for TANF for 5 years. Other exceptions allow certain
benefits for “qualified aliens” who are veterans, who are on active military duty, or who have
worked in the U.S. for at least 40 “qualifying quarters.”
3 Separately, the Act also contains most of the technical corrections from House-passed H.R.

1048 and Senate-passed H.R. 2015. (See CRS Report 97-493 ALD, Alien Eligibility for Benefits:

“Technical Corrections,” by Larry M. Eig and Joyce C. Vialet.)

Briefly, the Balanced Budget Act:
!Continues SSI and related Medicaid for “qualified aliens” noncitizens receiving
benefits on August 22, 1996;4
!Allows SSI and Medicaid benefits for aliens who were here on August 22, 1996
and who later become disabled;5
!Extends the exemption from SSI and Medicaid restrictions for refugees and
asylees from 5 to 7 years after entry;
!Classifies Cuban/Haitians and Amerasians as refugees, as they were prior to
1996, thereby making them eligible from time of entry for TANF and other
programs determined to be means-tested, as well as for refugee-related benefits;
!Exempts certain Native Americans living along the Canadian and Mexican
borders from SSI and Medicaid restrictions.
Noncitizen Food Stamp Eligibility under P.L. 105-185
Food stamp eligibility is provided to approximately 250,000 legal immigrants by P.L.
105-185, the “Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998,” at
a cost of $818 million for FY1999-FY2003. Under P.L. 105-185, the following groups
became eligible for food stamps on November 1, 1998:
!Noncitizen children under age 18 who entered by August 22, 1996;
!Legal immigrants here by August 22, 1996, who were age 65 and over or
disabled on that date, or who become disabled after that date;
!Refugees and asylees for 7 years after entry as refugees or obtaining
asylum status in the United States, as opposed to 5 years under
!Hmong refugees from Laos who came here after the Vietnam War; and
!Certain Native Americans living along the Canadian and Mexican
Noncitizen SSI and Medicaid Eligibility under P.L. 105-306.
P.L. 105-306 completes the process of continuing SSI and related Medicaid
eligibility for all aliens receiving those benefits when PRWORA became law on August
22, 1996. It does so by continuing eligibility for an estimated 3,400 recipients who are
not “qualified aliens.” CBO estimates the cost of this provision at $41 million over five
years. Separately, P.L. 105-306 makes clear that PRWORA is not to affect the eligibility
of foreign professionals for professional licenses issued by the states.

4 The 1997 law also included a grandfather clause through FY1998 for aliens identified by the
Social Security Administration (SSA) as receiving benefits on August 22, 1996, but who do not
appear to fit within one of the categories of “qualified aliens” defined by the 1996 legislation.
5 “Disabled” refers to persons originally found eligible for SSI on the basis of disability (or
blindness), and “aged” refers to persons first found eligible at age 65 or over. Some disabled are
now aged, and vice versa, but for SSI purposes they retain their original classification.

1. Noncitizen Eligibility for SSI, Medicaid, and Food Stamps under
P.L. 105-33, P.L. 105-185, and P.L. 105-306
Security Income
Provision(SSI)*Medicaid*Food Stamps*
EligibilityContinues eligibilitySSI recipients remainEligible if 65 or over by
ofqualified aliens”**both for aged and foreligible; for others,8/22/96, subsequently
here on 8/22/96disabledqualifiedMedicaid is a statedisabled, and/or while
aliens” receiving SSIoptionunder 18
as of 8/22/96, as well
as those disabled
after 8/22/96
Eligibility ofContinues eligibilityEligible as long as theyIneligible
non-”qualified aliens”**both for aged and forcontinue to receive SSI;
receiving benefits ondisabled recipientsotherwise ineligible
Refugee and asyleeRefugees and asyleesRefugees and asyleesRefugees and asylees
exemption (includingexempted for 7 yearsexempted for 7 yearsexempted for 7 years
Cuban/Haitian entrantsfrom bar against SSIfrom bar againstfrom bar against food
and Amerasians)Medicaid (at which pointstamps
it becomes a state
o p tio n)
Hmong eligibilityCovered by 7-yearCovered by 7-yearExempts members of
refugee exemption, ifrefugee exemption, ifHmong tribes that
applicableapplicableassisted U.S. during
Vietnam war, and
immediate family
me mb e r s
Native AmericanExempts members ofExempts members ofExempts members of
exemptionIndian Tribes andIndian Tribes and certainIndian Tribes and
certain NativeNative Americans borncertain Native
Americans born inin Canada fromAmericans born in
Canada from SSI barMedicaid bars onCanada from food
onqualified aliensqualified aliensstamp bar onqualified
* Restrictions do not apply toqualified aliens” who meet 10-year work requirement; or are veterans or
certain active duty personnel, and close family. The alienage restrictions do not apply to aliens who
become citizens through naturalization.
**Qualified aliens” include legal permanent residents, refugees, aliens granted asylum or similar relief,
aliens paroled into the U.S. for at least 1 year, and certain battered family members; plus
Cuban/Haitian entrants added by Balanced Budget Act.