SNAP Eligibility for Legal Immigrants in New York

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The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in New York provides qualified, low-income families and individuals with food stamps to purchase healthy foods. SNAP caters to both U.S. citizens as well as noncitizens, so long as they are legally residing in the country. In order for immigrants to obtain food stamp benefits in New York, they must be able to provide documents stating legal presence in the United States. Once an immigrant can prove legal presence, he or she can continue filling out the SNAP application, which will then go through the approval process. Read more about SNAP for immigrants below.

What are the SNAP eligibility requirements for legal immigrants?

In addition to meeting all the standard eligibility requirements for SNAP, immigrants must meet additional qualifications. The first is that the applicant must be a legally present immigrant. Next, immigrants applying for food stamps must meet one of the following additional requirements to qualify for New York SNAP, which include that the applicant must be:

  • A legal permanent residents (LPR) – must have been a resident in the U.S. for at least five years
  • A child under the age of 18
  • A victim of human trafficking
  • An individual receiving government benefits due to disability or blindness
  • A refugee
  • A certain American Indian who was born overseas
  • An elderly individual who was born on or before August 22, 1931 and was lawfully residing in the United States by August 22, 1996

A complete listing of eligibility requirements is available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), along with the SNAP policy for noncitizens. Eligibility is far more complex than just meeting the list of requirements. Language problems or illiteracy issues make it difficult for some applicants. For others, there is a misconception that using SNAP benefits may somehow negatively affect a chance at citizenship.

Qualifications for Alien Children

Children under the age of 18 that are legally present in the U.S. are eligible for SNAP even if their parents are on a waiting list. Legal non-citizens who do not meet the eligibility requirements for themselves may still apply for SNAP for their children. Once they reach the age of 18, if they have been in the U.S. legally for five years, they may continue to qualify for SNAP.

What foods are and are not SNAP-eligible?

SNAP is intended to supplement households with nutritious foods. Benefits cannot be used for non-food items, such as dish soap, paper towels, pet foods, vitamins or hair products. Nor can SNAP be used to purchase prepared foods that are meant to be eaten onsite, such as hot deli foods. No beer, wine or tobacco products may be purchased using SNAP benefits. Live animals may not be purchased – with the exception of live fish for consumption, like lobsters and shellfish.

SNAP can be used to purchase what is considered luxury food, such as steak and decorated cakes from the bakery department. Junk food may also be purchased, including cookies, soda and ice cream. Seeds or plants that produce food for consumption are also eligible, such as tomato plants.

Where do legal immigrants apply for SNAP?

Legal immigrants may apply for SNAP at a local SNAP office, by mailing in an application, or by faxing the application. When filling out the application, make certain to fill as much information as possible on the form, so the process is not delayed. It must also be signed in order to be accepted.

How long does the food stamps application process take?

The application process for SNAP begins on the date the application is received. Once the application is received and reviewed, applicants are contacted for an interview, after which a decision is made. In circumstances where an applicant needs help right away, the SNAP office may consider expediting the decision. This allows households to receive an initial benefit within five days of applying. The application is still subject to the SNAP eligibility process and applicants will still need to provide any requested documents to finish the process.

Other Resources

For legal immigrants who do not qualify for SNAP at this time, there are other options available to provide food assistance. Local food pantries distribute food to the needy throughout New York, thanks to donations and sponsors. Community centers may include food programs for low-income families as well. Many religious institutions can also provide assistance regardless to those in need of meals.