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Marta Campabadal Graus
By Marta Campabadal Graus April 13, 2023

If Your Time is short

  • Most immigrants who have been in the United States for three months do not qualify for food assistance. 

  • In some very specific cases, such as refugees, food assistance is available without a waiting period.

  • Some states have expanded eligibility to include noncitizens, using state funds. Even so, these states have eligibility rules and being in the country for only three months is not necessarily enough to qualify.

Many newcomers to the United States have a litany of things to sort out when they arrive, including immigration paperwork, finding employment and ensuring they have something to eat each day. 

A video in Spanish posted on Facebook shows images of food and coolers and claims that immigrants only need to have been in the U.S. for three months to qualify for food assistance.

"Latino, immigrant, newcomer, maybe this will interest you," says the video's narrator. "If you're an immigrant in the United States and you've been living there for more than three months, you may qualify for food stamps. You can find the basics right here, start at the link." 

Despite the claim, neither the video nor the post contain any links.

The video was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

The video does not specify which food aid program it is talking about.

However, there is a federal program that allows low-income U.S. citizens and certain immigrants to access funds to purchase nutritious food. This is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is managed at the state level.

What the video claims does not conform to the rules set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Justin Mason, digital information officer for the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance in New York.

USDA rules say that people generally must be here a minimum of five years in legal status before they are eligible for SNAP assistance. 

The USDA also sets the gross monthly income and asset limit to determine eligibility.

Elaine Waxman, a researcher at the Urban Institute specializing in income and benefits policy, explained that "what the video claims is not true in most cases." 

Typically, Waxman adds, immigrants must wait five years if they have legal status, and people without legal status are not eligible at all.

But, as the USDA reports, there are exceptions to the rule. Certain people do qualify for SNAP benefits even if they have not been in the U.S. for five years, including:

  • Refugees
  • Victims of trafficking
  • Immigrants from Cuba, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan.

People applying for SNAP must do so through their state of residence, and income and residency requirements vary from state to state, said Valerie Lacarte, senior analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.

"Although SNAP is a federal program, states can expand eligibility using state funds, including noncitizens," said Mariely Lopez-Santana, associate professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

A Migration Policy Institute report released in March said that six states have expanded food assistance for certain immigrants who do not yet meet federal requirements. These states are California, Connecticut, Maine, Illinois, Minnesota and Washington.

Still, these states also have their own eligibility rules. 

In Connecticut, for example, noncitizen immigrants are eligible for the state's food assistance program if they have lived in the state for at least six months. California, meanwhile, has the nation’s most generous program, and assists all residents older than 55, regardless of immigration status.

In addition to the food assistance offered by the state, some charitable and non-profit organizations have their own assistance programs, which tend to have less stringent standards for qualification.

Read a related fact-check in Spanish.

Lea este informe en español.

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Our Sources

Facebook post, March 31, 2023

Static Source, accessed April 4, 2023

Migration Policy Institute, SNAP Access and Participation in the U.S.-Born and Immigrant Households A Data Profile, March, 2023

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Eligibility, accessed April 4, 2023

U.S. Government website, Food assistance, accessed April 4, 2023

Urban Institute, Elaine Waxman profile, accessed April 4, 2023

Email interview with Elaine Waxman, Senior Fellow on the Income and Benefits Policy Center, April 4, 2023

Email interview with Justin Mason, digital information officer for the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) in New York, April 4, 2023

Email interview with Mariely López Santana, Associate Professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, April 4, 2023

PolitiFact, "President Trump has banned welfare for illegal immigrants which will save $57.4 billion a year", April 24, 2020

PolitiFact, Trump says 'time has come' for law restricting federal assistance to immigrants. It already exists, June 27, 2017

Iowa Legal Aid, Food Stamps and Immigrants, accessed April 4, 2023

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Apply for SNAP, accessed April 4, 2023

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, A Quick Guide to SNAP Eligibility and Benefits, accessed April 4, 2023

U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA Restores Original Intent of SNAP: A Second Chance, Not A Way of Life, 4 de diciembre de 2019, consultado el 4 de abril de 2023

U.S. Department of Agriculture, SNAP State Directory of Resources, accessed April 4, 2023

Local Departments of Social Services, Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, accessed April 4, 2023, When does Medicare coverage start?, accessed April 4, 2023

Department of Human Services of Minnesota, Frequently asked questions, accessed April 4, 2023

California Legislative Information, AB-178 Budget Act of 2022,  accessed April 11, 2023

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Newly arrived immigrants are generally not automatically eligible for food assistance