Washington Public Assistance for Refugees and Other Humanitarian Entrants

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
Read this in:
Spanish / Español

(Includes Refugees, Asylees, Persons Granted Withholding of Deportation, Cuban-Haitian Entrants and Special Immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan). Publication #7932EN.


Download | Printer-friendly

Read Online



This says what benefits you may be eligible for if you are a humanitarian entrant. 

How can I tell if I am a humanitarian entrant?

There are several categories of immigrants considered humanitarian entrants under the immigration laws.  They include: 

  • Refugees – persons who have fled their country due to fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a social group.

  • Asylees –You meet eligibility criteria for refugee status but apply within the U.S.

  • Persons granted Withholding of Deportation – persons fleeing persecution who may or may not also meet requirements for asylee status.

  • Special Immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan  - persons who worked with the U.S. Armed Forces or under Chief of Mission authority in Iraq or Afghanistan.

  • Amerasian entrants – children (and their families) fathered by U.S. citizens in the conflict in Southeast Asia.

  • Cuban-Haitian entrants – includes Cubans and Haitians who have been granted parole, applied for asylum, or not received a final order of deportation.

  •  Conditional entrants – persons granted refugee status before 1980.

If you are in one of these groups, you should have documentation of your status from the Department of Homeland Security.  If you do not, talk to an immigration lawyer, or contact the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

  • in Western Washington at 800-445-5771

  • in Eastern Washington at 888-756-3641 (Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Garfield, Kittitas, Klickitat, Walla Walla Whitman & Yakima counties) OR 866-271-2084 (Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane & Stevens counties) 

DSHS may be able to help you get copies of immigration documents you have lost if you need them to show you are eligible for benefits. 

I am a humanitarian entrant. Am I eligible for benefits?

Maybe for some federal benefits, including:

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) - cash assistance for low-income families.

  • Medicaid – medical coverage for low-income persons, including pre-natal and children’s health programs. 

  • Children’s Health Insurance Program.

  • Federal Food Stamps.

  • Tax credits and subsidies to help with out-of-pocket costs for health insurance purchased through the state Health Benefits Exchange (“Healthplanfinder”).

*Note:  Most humanitarian entrants are required to carry health coverage and may incur a tax penalty if they do not do so.  See Requirement to Get Coverage.

You may also be eligible for state benefits, including:

  • Aged Blind & Disabled (ABD) -cash assistance for seniors and disabled persons.

Can I get SSI? 

Maybe.  Humanitarian entrants can get SSI during their first seven years in a humanitarian immigration status. 
If you came to the U.S. before August 22, 1996 and have had your immigration status longer than seven years, you may need to show you are disabled (even if you are already 65) to keep getting SSI.  If you came to the U.S. on or after August 22, 1996, you probably need to become a citizen to keep being eligible for SSI. 

There are special eligibility rules for people who have a work history or are in the armed services. Talk to a legal services lawyer.

Are there any special programs for humanitarian entrants?

Yes. The Refugee Assistance Program provides eligible low-income refugees and other humanitarian entrants cash and medical assistance for up to eight months after they enter the U.S. (for eight months after being granted asylum for asylees.) 

How do I apply for benefits? 

Cash and food assistance: apply at your local office of DSHS (Department of Social and Health Services.) 
Most medical programs, including insurance and subsidies: you can apply through Healthplanfinder online at www.wahealthplanfinder.org, by calling
1-855-923-4633 (1-855-WAFINDER), or by asking for a paper application from Healthplanfinder or your local DSHS office. If you go online, make sure you use www.wahealthplanfinder.org.

I need welfare benefits. I do not speak English. What should I do?

The welfare office must provide you with a free interpreter without delay.  You should say on the application form if you have a hard time reading, speaking, or understanding English.

*The welfare office should send you translated notices about your benefits so you can read about your rights and responsibilities in your own language.  Keep copies of what they send you. If you have not received interpreters or notices in your own language and they have cut off your benefits, you may be able to get them back.

I have used public assistance. Can I still get a green card (lawful permanent residence) or become a citizen?

Yes. Refugees and humanitarian entrants may use public assistance, including cash, food, and medical, and still be eligible to get a green card or their citizenship.

It is important to provide the government accurate and complete info when applying for and receiving benefits.  Immigrants who fraudulently receive public assistance may have trouble becoming citizens due to having committed fraud, not due to having received benefits. They may face deportation if convicted of a crime. 

It is also best not to travel outside the U.S. for more than six months, especially if you are getting cash assistance. You may have trouble re-entering the country. Always tell DSHS before you leave the country if you may be gone for over 30 days. 

For more info, talk to an immigration lawyer, or read When is it Safe for Immigrants to Use Public Benefits?

I have a sponsoring organization. Can I be denied assistance?

No. The rules on sponsor deeming do not apply to refugees with a sponsoring organization.  You must still report any income you get, including actual income your sponsoring organization has given you.

What if the welfare office denied my application?

If they deny your application and you believe you are eligible, or want someone else to review your case, tell your worker you want an Administrative Hearing OR ask for a copy of the Hearing Request form to fill out. There is no fee or penalty for requesting an administrative hearing. You can always withdraw your request later if you find out the welfare office was right.  You should also contact a legal services office for advice.



This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities.  It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice. 
This information is current as of July 2017.

© 2017Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)
Last Review and Update: Jul 28, 2017