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Washington Public Assistance for Lawfully Present Non-Citizens

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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7928EN - This publication is for certain immigrants and immigration applicants who the government considers to be lawfully present in the U.S. Lawfully present immigrants are eligible for some state and federal benefits programs, if they meet other program requirements.

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This publication is for certain immigrants and immigration applicants who the U.S. government considers to be lawfully present in the U.S.  Lawfully present immigrants are eligible for some state and federal benefits programs, if they meet other program requirements.

*This publication has general information only. For advice about your situation, speak with an immigration lawyer.


Am I a lawfully present immigrant?

Probably, if the U.S. has granted you some kind of immigration status allowing you to be in the U.S. The U.S. also considers many immigration applicants lawfully present, even if USCIS has not yet approved their application (although in some cases they must have employment authorization).  The following categories are considered lawfully present:

  • Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs/"greencard" holders)

  • Asylees

  • Refugees

  • Granted Withholding of Deportation/Removal, under the immigration laws or under the Convention Against Torture (CAT)

  • Cuban/Haitian Entrants

  • Paroled into the U.S.

  • Conditional Entrants

  • Certain battered immigrant spouses and children (and their children/parents)

  • Certain victims of Trafficking (and certain family members)

  • Granted Temporary Protected Status

  • Granted Deferred Action (with the exception of persons granted Deferred Action under DACA for childhood arrivals)

  • Granted Deferred Enforced Departure

  • Granted Family Unity

  • Citizens of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau

  • Individuals in current non-immigrant status who have not violated the terms of their status, including persons with student visas, U visas and V visas

  • Applicants for Adjustment with approved visa petitions

  • Applicants for Adjustment Applicants for Asylum and/or Withholding of Deportation/Removal

  • Applicants for TPS Applicants for Suspension of Deportation or Cancellation of Removal

  • Lawful Temporary Residents under IRCA

  • Applicants for Legalization under IRCA or the LIFE Act

  • Applicants for Registry

  • Individuals on an Order of Supervision

  • Children with a pending application for Special Immigrant Juvenile status

What benefits am I eligible for as a lawfully present immigrant?

You may be eligible for the following Washington State programs, if you meet other program requirements (such as having low income and living in Washington):

  • State Family Assistance - Cash benefits for families

  • Aged, Blind and Disabled  (ABD) – cash assistance for seniors and persons with disabilities

  • Food Assistance Program (FAP) -  state funded food assistance

  • ADATSA (Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Treatment and Support)

  • Medical Care Services (MCS) for seniors and persons with disabilities

  • Medical benefits for pregnant women and for children (see our publication Apple Health for Kids)

  • Consolidated Emergency Assistance Program (CEAP) (read our publication CEAP: Extra Money for Needy Families. DSHS has currently suspended this program, due to lack of funding.)

Lawfully present immigrants may also be eligible from some federal programs, including:

  • Emergency Medicaid, immunizations, testing and treatment of communicable diseases

  • Qualified Health Plans (these are private health plans purchased through the Health Benefits Exchange, rather than a government program) and federal tax credits and subsidies to help with the out-of-pocket costs of such plans

*Most lawfully present immigrants are required to carry health coverage. They face a tax penalty for not doing so.  See our publication Health Care Reform; Requirement to Get Coverage.

  • Disaster relief

  • School lunch and child nutrition programs

  • Foster care and adoption assistance

  • Higher education loans, Head Start and other education programs

  • Job Training Partnership Act

All immigrants, even if not lawfully present, may be eligible for community programs needed to protect life or safety, such as domestic violence shelters.

I have been granted deferred action under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) law. Am I considered lawfully present?

Maybe. If you have deferred action under DACA you are considered lawfully present for the purposes of several state benefits programs, including state-funded medical for seniors and persons with disabilities, State Family Assistance, and state-funded food assistance.  

However, you are NOT considered lawfully present for purposes of the federal Affordable Care Act. This means you cannot purchase a Qualified Health Plan (private insurance) through the Health Benefits Exchange or get tax credits or subsidies to help with the costs of such insurance.

What does it mean to have a "qualified" status?

Certain lawfully present immigrants are also considered "qualified" and may be eligible for additional federal benefits, although many restrictions apply.  The categories of lawfully present immigrants considered "qualified" are:

  • Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs/"green card" holders)

  • Asylees

  • Refugees

  • Granted Withholding of Deportation/Removal, under the immigration laws or under the Convention Against Torture (CAT)

  • Cuban/Haitian Entrants

  • Paroled into the U.S.

  • Conditional Entrants

  • Certain battered immigrant spouses and children (and their children/parents)

  • Certain victims of Trafficking (and certain family members)

If you are a "qualified immigrant," you may also be eligible for the following federal programs:

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – cash assistance for low-income families

  • Federally funded food stamps

  • Refugee cash and medical assistance (for refugees, asylees, and trafficking victims)

  • Non-emergency Medicaid

  • SSI – cash assistance for seniors and disabled persons (this program includes many eligibility restrictions, especially if you arrived in the U.S. after August 22, 1998) 

Some categories of qualified immigrants are ineligible for these programs until they have been in a qualified status for five years – in particular persons who got their green card through a visa petition filed by a family member.  Humanitarian entrants such as asylees and refugees are not subject to this five-year bar, and there is an exception for persons in the military or veterans and their family members.  

If you got legal status through a visa petition filed by a family member, you may be ineligible for some programs because the benefits-granting agency (DSHS or HBE/HCA) will consider your sponsor's income in determining your financial eligibility (although there are some exceptions).   See our publication Washington Public Assistance for Family Visa Beneficiaries.

How do I apply for benefits?

Cash and food assistance: you can apply at your local office of DSHS (Department of Social and Health Services). 

For most medical programs, including insurance and subsidies, you can apply through Healthplanfinder online at www.wahealthplanfinder.org, by phone at 1-855-923-4633 (1-855-WAFINDER), or by requesting a paper application from Healthplanfinder or from your local DSHS office. If you go online, make sure you go to the correct website (www.wahealthplanfinder.org).   Many community clinics also have "in person assisters" available to help you apply for medical benefits. If you would like to apply for state-funded medical assistance for persons who are over 65 or disabled, you should do so at your local DSHS office.  

*You may get correspondence about your application for health care benefits from either the Health Benefits Exchange ("HBE") or the Health Care Authority ("HCA"). Both entities are involved in administering medical programs in Washington State.

Do I need to provide proof that I am lawfully present?

Yes. Both DSHS and HCA/HBE will require you to provide some kind of written documentation from U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS), or from an immigration court or other authority, showing you are in a lawfully present status. If your documents are expired or lost, you will need to apply for a replacement document. You may be able to request a fee waiver when you apply.

If you do not have documents showing your status, talk to an immigration lawyer. Contact the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Western Washington at 800-445-5771, or in Eastern Washington at 888-756-3641 (if you live in Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Garfield, Kittitas, Klickitat, Walla Walla Whitman & Yakima counties) or  866-271-2084 (if you live in Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane & Stevens counties). 

*Immigration law is complicated. Talk to a lawyer for advice about your situation.

I do not speak English. I need to apply for benefits. What should I do?

Be sure to indicate on the application form that you have a hard time reading, writing, speaking or understanding English.

You should also indicate the language in which you prefer to communicate.  DSHS must provide you with a free interpreter and translated notices about your benefits so that you can read about your rights and responsibilities in your own language. HCA/HBE must also provide free interpreter services and translated notices. 

Keep a copy of any notices you get about your benefits.  If there is anything in a notice that you do not understand, contact the office that sent it. Ask for help.   For DSHS you can contact your caseworker, your local community services office, or the customer service center at 1-877-501-2233.  For HBE you can call the Customer Support Center at 1-855-923-4633.  For HCA you can call Medical Eligibility Determination Services at 1-855-623-9357.  Each of these offices should provide you a translated notice or a telephonic interpretation of the notice so you can fully understand what it says. 

You should also keep a copy of any information you submit to DSHS or HCA/HBE, and proof of mailing or that you submitted it in person (ask to have a copy date-stamped at DSHS.)  Having copies of your correspondence to and from DSHS and HCA/HBE may help if there are problems with your benefits. 

I am a lawfully present immigrant. Can I get a Social Security number?

Probably.  If you do not have work authorization, the Social Security office should give you a non-work number if you need it to get the state/federal benefits for which you are eligible.  You will need to give SSA a letter from DSHS or HCA/HBE stating you need a number to get benefits.

*You cannot use a non-work number to work.  Any earnings reported to a non-work number may be reported to USCIS.

If SSA will not give you a non-work number, ask for documentation showing you tried to apply. Submit a copy to DSHS or to HCA/HBE. Your benefits application should not be delayed while you try to apply for a social security number.

I get cash benefits. Will that keep me from getting lawful permanent resident (green card) status?

Possibly. Depending on your status, USCIS may deny your application for lawful permanent residence if it finds you are likely to become a public charge (if you are likely to depend on cash assistance for your support).  

Some lawfully present immigrants, such as refugees and asylees, are not subject to the public charge rules. They do not have to show they are not likely to become a public charge. 

USCIS does not count non-cash benefits, such medical benefits and food stamps, in determining whether someone is likely to become a public charge. (The only exception is medical benefits a person gets while institutionalized for long-term care.)  

Even if public charge rules do apply to you and you have gotten cash benefits, USCIS may still grant your application for lawful permanent residence if you can show your need for cash assistance was temporary and will not affect your future ability to support yourself or your family.

What if my benefits application is denied?

If either DSHS or HBE/HCA denies your application and you believe you are eligible, or would like another person to review your case, you have the right to appeal.  If you disagree with a decision by DSHS, tell your worker you want an Administrative Hearing OR ask for a Hearing Request form to fill out.  If you disagree with a decision by HBE/HCA, they should give you a copy of an appeal form to submit.  If they do not, call 1-855-923-4633 (for HBE) or 1-855-623-9357 (for HCA) to ask for one. 

You should appeal quickly. There are short deadlines for filing an appeal.   You should also contact a legal services office for advice.  

There is no fee or penalty for requesting an administrative hearing with either DSHS or HBE/HCA.  You can always withdraw your request later if you find out the decision was correct. 

What if I need legal help?

CLEAR is Washington's toll-free, centralized intake, advice and referral service for low-income people seeking free legal assistance with civil legal problems. 

  • Outside King County: Call 1-888-201-1014 weekdays from 9:15 a.m. until 12:15 p.m. 

  • King County: Call 211 for information and referral to an appropriate legal services provider Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm. You may also call (206) 461-3200, or the toll-free number, 1-877-211-WASH (9274). You can also get information on legal service providers in King County through 211's website at www.resourcehouse.com/win211/.

  • Persons 60 and Over: Persons 60 or over may call CLEAR*Sr at 1-888-387-7111, regardless of income.

Deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired callers can call CLEAR or 211 using the relay service of their choice.
211 and CLEAR will conference in interpreters when needed at no cost to callers. 

Free legal education publications, videos and self-help packets covering many legal issues are available at www.washingtonlawhelp.org.








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 January 2017.

© 2017 Northwest 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: Jan 30, 2017