Immigrant Eligibility for Public Programs During COVID-19

Date last updated: February 1, 2021

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This table provides a general overview of some of the federal public programs available to support individuals and families during the COVID-19 crisis under existing law, as well as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and HR-133, which all passed in 2020. Special thanks to Hope Nakamura and the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County for their contributions to this table.

In light of implementation of public charge regulations, we have also included clarification about whether certain public programs are taken into account for public charge purposes. Additional information about the public charge regulations are available in this FAQ document from the Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF) Campaign

Click here to download the table below.

Health Care

What’s Available

The Families First Act provides funding for COVID-19 testing for the uninsured and gives states the option to provide testing through their Medicaid programs. 

The CARES Act also increases and extends funding for Community Health Centers (CHCs). 

Under existing law, individuals who lose health coverage (due to job loss, for example), may qualify for a special enrollment period in the Marketplaces, including the federal  Marketplace. Some state-based marketplaces allow enrollment during the COVID crisis.

Immigrant Eligibility

Neither the CARES Act nor the Families First Act alters Medicaid eligibility for immigrants. 

Some states have defined testing and treatment for suspected COVID virus as emergency services covered by their Emergency Medicaid programs. Emergency Medicaid is available regardless of immigration status but applicants must meet the other eligibility requirements for Medicaid in their state. That means that in a state that has not expanded Medicaid, a non-pregnant adult without disabilities or children may not be eligible for services.

CHCs provide primary and preventive healthcare to anyone regardless of their immigration status or ability to pay.

Immigrants who are lawfully present may be eligible to buy subsidized health insurance in the Marketplaces. 

Public Charge Implications

USCIS has announced that testing, prevention, or treatment for COVID-19 will NOT be used against immigrants in a public charge test. This means that immigrant families should seek the care they need during this difficult time.

More information:


Cash Assistance

What’s Available

Congress passed two different rounds of Economic Impact Payments (EIPs), also referred to as “stimulus checks.”

Payment #1 (CARES Act): 

  • $1200 per qualifying  adult
  • $500 per qualifying  child dependent

Payment #2: (HR 133) 

  • $600 per qualifying adult
  • $600 per qualifying child dependent

The payment is reduced by $5 for every $100 of income above the following thresholds: 

  • $75,000 for single filers
  •  $112,500 for a head of household filer
  • $150,000 for joint filers
Immigrant Eligibility

To receive either of the two stimulus payments, you must have a valid Social Security Number (SSN) and work authorization. 

Immigrants who file taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) are still not eligible for either of the two EIPs/stimulus payments.  

The first payment under the CARES Act excluded mixed-status households [households with tax returns where some file with Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and others file with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) because they are ineligible for SSNS]

For the first CARES Act payment, BOTH taxpayers filing married jointly on a tax return were required to have a valid SSN and work authorization (unless one spouse served in the armed forces in the last year) or the entire family was disqualified.

The second payment (HR 133) fixed the “mixed-status” exclusion for some households. For the second round of payments, a taxpayer with a work-authorized SSN married to an ITIN filer and filing taxes jointly is ELIGIBLE for the new stimulus payment, as are any eligible child dependents with SSNs.  

However, child dependents with SSNs are still not eligible for the payments unless at least one of the taxpayers claiming them as dependents on their tax returns has a valid SSN and work authorization. 

H.R. 133 also provided a retroactive CARES Act payment for those “mixed-status” families now eligible for the second payment who were excluded from the first round of payments.. 

If a person  did not get the first rebate because only one parent had a valid SSN, they can claim the CARES Act rebate when filing their 2020 tax returns.

For more information about the second payment: Ways and Means One Pager

Public Charge Implications

The stimulus payment is an advanced tax credit (based on 2020 tax returns), and the public charge regulation is clear that tax credits are NOT taken into account for the purposes of a public charge determination.

Since the EIP is considered a tax refund, it is NOT counted towards eligibility for federal programs such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

More information:


Food Assistance

SNAP (Food Stamps)

15% increase in SNAP benefits from January through June 2021.

School Meals

Pandemic EBT or “P-EBT” – For children who attend a school that has closed and who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price meals. EBT stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer.

Other Nutrition Programs

Provides additional funding for WIC, The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and home-delivered meal program.

Immigrant Eligibility

Only certain non-citizens are eligible for SNAP, such as asylees, refugees, and some green card holders (see below). Parents who are not eligible for SNAP can apply for their eligible household members.

 P-EBT is available regardless of immigration status. Households do not have to be enrolled in SNAP to be eligible. 

WIC, TEFAP, and home-delivered meals are available regardless of immigration status. 


Public Charge Implications

Federally funded SNAP benefits may be considered in a public charge determination. But few individuals who are eligible for SNAP are also subject to a public charge determination. Other family members’ use does NOT affect the immigrant.

P-EBT is NOT considered in a public charge test. 

WIC, TEFAP, and home-delivered meals are NOT included in the public charge test.

More information:


Unemployment Insurance

What’s Available

 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) covers workers like independent contractors and other situations where individuals are unable to work due to the public health crisis.

Additional $300/wk. in benefits thru 3/14/2021 in states that agree.

Additional 11 weeks of extended UI benefits.

Some states have waived the seven-day waiting period.

Immigrant Eligibility

Immigrants generally must have work-authorization.


Public Charge Implications

UI is NOT considered in public charge determinations.

More Information: