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Representatives Discuss Access to SNAP Benefits for Undocumented Immigrants

DanFarm Bill, Labor and Immigration, Legislative, Regulation

undocumented immigrants

Do undocumented immigrants have access to SNAP benefits? That was a topic of discussion at the recent House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations hearing on SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Funding for the program is included in the farm bill, and the hearing was part of the committee’s work on the 2023 farm bill.

Representative Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee has in the past questioned USDA on the issue and brought it up again during the hearing. He directed his question at Dan Giacomi, the SNAP Program Administration Manager, at the Connecticut Department of Social Services

“With the influx of illegal immigration across the southern border—I mean, there’s record numbers—this is obviously going to cause a drain on the SNAP program,” he said. “Are you tracking that at all?”

“We do have numbers on those who are applying. I will say if an adult comes in and is not identified as a permanent resident or in a qualifying category, they would not be eligible for assistance. We are not necessarily tracking the number of individuals who are coming in that we are denying because of this reason,” Giacomi said.

DesJarlais recommended looking on the internet for numbers.

“That’s a talking point that I say you can Google how many non-U.S citizens receive SNAP and it says it’s very difficult to get. But that’s not actually true, because if you’re a child under 18, or if you say you’re seeking asylum, which pretty much everybody is right now,” he said. “It’s refugee status or asylum-seeking. So, all these people do qualify for the SNAP program and for some reason we just want to ignore that.”

However, immediately following his statement, Committee Chairwoman Representative Jahana Hayes gave a clarification.

“Only U.S. citizens and certain lawfully-present non-citizens may receive SNAP benefits. Non-citizens who are eligible based on their immigration status must also meet other SNAP eligibility requirements, such as income and resource limits,” she said. “Some specific, very specific, non-citizen groups are eligible without a waiting period. They include refugees, asylees, victims of trafficking, and Iraq and Afghan immigrants who worked as translators and interpreters and were employed by the U.S. government and received special immigrant visas.  Other non-citizens can be considered after a waiting period if they are a legal permanent resident and has worked for ten years or of another qualifying status for five years. So the idea that undocumented immigrants who are coming over the border automatically qualify for benefits like SNAP is just not true.”

The National Immigration Law Center has information on immigrants and SNAP benefits, as does the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. Both state the same qualification requirements noted by Representative Hayes. 

Sabrina Halvorson
National Correspondent / AgNet Media, Inc.

Sabrina Halvorson is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, and public speaker who specializes in agriculture. She primarily reports on legislative issues and hosts The AgNet News Hour and The AgNet Weekly podcast. Sabrina is a native of California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley.