Immigration benefits and refugee services

Are you struggling to pay for basic living expenses? Public benefits and services from the U.S. government may help. Learn about options for immigrants and refugees and how to apply. 

What are public benefits? 

The U.S. government offers public benefits for essential services, including food, housing, healthcare, and education. Social service agencies provide these federal programs. They help:

  • People who have low income
  • People who are homeless
  • People with disabilities

Refugees, asylees, and other immigrants may also qualify for additional services offered by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). 

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

TANF (also called welfare) provides cash to families with low income. The program helps pay for food, housing, child care, and job training. You will get TANF benefits on a debit card, direct deposit, or paper checks depending on your state. 

How to apply: Contact your local TANF program for information on eligibility requirements and how to apply. 

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI provides monthly payments to adults 65 or older who have retired and no longer work, or earn a limited amount each month. Adults and children may also be eligible if they have little or no income or resources (such as money and car). The monthly payment amount can vary based on your income, resources, and living situation. 

Find SSI information in multiple languages.  

How to apply: Fill out an online application. You can also call the SSI help line at 1-800-772-1213. You will get an appointment to complete your application. 

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) 

SSDI provides income for people who have a disability that stops or limits their ability to work for a year or more. Your monthly payment depends on your work history. You will also get health insurance coverage through Medicare. 

How to apply: Fill out an online application.You can also call the SSI help line at 1-800-772-1213. You will get an appointment to complete your application. 

Learn more about benefits for people with disabilities.


Medicaid provides free or low-cost health insurance to older adults, people with disabilities, children, pregnant women, and families with low incomes. Most immigrants must wait 5 years after receiving immigration status before applying for Medicaid. Refugees and asylees do not have to wait.

How to apply: Fill out an application with the Health Insurance Marketplace. You can also check your state Medicaid agency for eligibility information and how to apply. 

Emergency Medicaid pays for emergency services, including being in the hospital. Emergency Medicaid is available for immigrants who are not considered “qualified non-citizens” but meet all income and state residency rules. 

Undocumented immigrants can get Emergency Medicaid. 


The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides free or low-cost health coverage for children and pregnant women. This is for families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid. In some states, you must wait 5 years after getting immigration status before enrolling in Medicaid and CHIP.

How to apply: Fill out an application with the Health Insurance Marketplace. Find more information about the CHIP program in your state.  


Medicare provides free or low-cost health insurance for adults 65 or older and people with disabilities and serious illnesses. 

How to apply: Fill out the online application for Medicare. You can sign up for Medicare when you enroll in Social Security benefits or retire. Call the Medicare line at 1-800-633-4227 for help in your language. 

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) 

SNAP (food stamps) helps families with low income buy food using a card. You will get SNAP benefits on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. It works like a debit card. 

Each month, you get a certain amount of money on your card. You can use the card to buy groceries in authorized stores. You must meet certain income and work requirements to be eligible for SNAP. 

If you are not a U.S. citizen, you must also meet at least 1 of the following to qualify: 

  • Live in the US for 5+ years
  • Get disability-related benefits 
  • Be under 18 years old

How to apply: Contact the SNAP office in your state for information on how to apply.

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) 

WIC helps pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under 5 get food, nutrition counseling, and referrals to social services. You must meet certain income and health requirements to qualify. 

How to apply: Contact your state or local WIC agency for details on how to apply. 

Food assistance for older adults

Some states offer food assistance to adults 60 or older who have low incomes through the Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program and Commodity Supplemental Food Program. These assistance programs include monthly packages of healthy food and coupons for groceries at farmers’ markets. Older adults may also be eligible for food assistance from SNAP. 

How to apply: Contact the food and nutrition program in your state for information on how to apply. 

Free or reduced school meals 

Schools offer free or low-cost meals throughout the school year and during summer break. Your children may qualify based on your household income. If you get SNAP or TANF benefits, your children will automatically qualify for free school meals. 

How to apply: Schools typically send applications home at the beginning of the school year. You can also ask your school’s office for an application at any time during the school year. 

Public housing and vouchers

The U.S. government offers public or subsidized housing for families with low income, older adults, and people with disabilities. These apartments typically have reduced rent. You can also apply for vouchers to pay for part or all of your rent.  

How to apply: Contact a public housing agency in your state for more information. 

Find more information about housing for immigrants.  

Help to pay utility bills 

The LIHEAP program help people with low incomes pay for home energy bills, such as gas and electricity. The WAP program helps pay for home improvements that save money on energy bills. 

How to apply: Contact the LIHEAP office and WAP office in your state for more information. 

Lifeline helps people with low-incomes pay for phone and internet service.

How to apply: Contact your phone or internet company to sign up for Lifeline service with them. 

Who can get public benefits? 

You must be considered a qualified immigrant to be eligible for general public benefits. This includes: 

  • Lawful permanent residents (Green Card holders) 
  • Refugees and asylees
  • Cuban and Haitian entrants
  • Special immigrant visa holders
  • Victims of human trafficking 
  • Humanitarian parolees

Undocumented immigrants and other immigrants do not generally qualify for public benefits. 

You also must meet other requirements in your state to apply. Each state has its own requirements. Some states offer public benefits like health insurance to everyone regardless of immigration status. 

Your local social services agency can answer any questions you may have. lists benefits by state. 

What is a public charge?

A public charge is someone who immigration officials believe will depend on the government for money and support. If you are considered a public charge, you may not be able to apply for immigration status. 

Only 2 public benefits count toward public charge:

  1. Public cash assistance (including SSI and TANF)
  2. Long-term care (through Medicaid or other program) 

Public charge does not apply to groups who are eligible for ORR services including refugees and asylees. Learn more about the public charge rule.

What are ORR benefits and services?

Short term benefits

ORR benefits and services help refugees, asylees, and other new immigrants pay for basic needs as they settle in the United States. State governments, local resettlement agencies, and community organizations provide these services. Most of these services are available for up to 12 months after you arrive in the USA. 

How to apply: Sign up with your local refugee resettlement agency as soon as you get your status. They will help you enroll in these programs. Talk to your caseworker if you have any questions. 

Short term benefits include:

Refugee cash assistance (RCA)

If you do not qualify for SSI or TANF, you can get up to 12 months of refugee cash assistance. You can use RCA to help pay for food, housing, and transportation. The amount of money you receive depends on the size of your family.

You can also get self-sufficiency planning and employment services through this program. 

Matching grant (MG) program  

You can choose to enroll in the MG program instead of RCA. MG provides cash assistance, family budget planning, case management, and employment services for up to 8 months (240 days). 

The program also helps with housing, transportation, health, and English language training. 

Refugee medical assistance 

If you are not eligible for Medicaid, you can get up to 12 months of RMA. RMA provides the same free or low-cost health insurance as Medicaid. You can apply for medical insurance through the health insurance marketplace after RMA ends.

Medical screening 

You can get a free medical screening exam after arriving in the USA. You will get any needed vaccines. The medical provider will refer you to a primary care or specialist if you need further care.

Long term services

ORR offers additional programs that can help you after your first year here. These programs aim to provide you with support to be more secure in your life in the USA. These services are available for up to 5 years.

Long-term services include:

Refugee Support Services

You can get support services for up to 5 years after arriving in the USA. These include help learning English, finding a job, and training. You can also get help with childcare, transportation, translation and interpreter services, and case management. You can also get health education and mental health support through this program. 

Immigration legal assistance 

You can get immigration-related legal help to apply for asylum or other status to become a permanent resident.

Specialized programs 

ORR offers special programs through resettlement agencies and community organizations. These include: 

  • Employer training programs for new employees with the Employer Engagement Program (EEP)  
  • Help with saving money to buy a car, or home, start a business, or apply for college with Individual Development Accounts
  • Loans, training, and technical help for small business owners with Refugee Microenterprise Development 
  • Career development planning with Refugee Career Pathways
  • Support to start family childcare businesses at home
  • Services for families with children under 18 with Wilson-Fish TANF Coordination Program
  • Rural farming and urban community gardening projects support with Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program
  • Services for refugees 60 and older including meals, transportation, citizenship and naturalization services, and home care with Services to Older Refugees Program
  • Academic support and mentoring for youth with Refugee Youth Mentoring Program 
  • Support for people with special needs, including those with serious medical conditions, women at risk, and elderly refugees with Preferred Communities program
  • Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program (URM) and the Unaccompanied Children (UC) Program

Who can get ORR benefits?

ORR benefits are available to these groups: 

  • Refugees and asylees
  • Afghan and Ukrainian parolees 
  • Afghan and Iraqi SIV holders 
  • Cuban and Haitian entrants 
  • Victims of trafficking 
  • Survivors of torture
  • Ameriasians 
There are additional resources for certain groups. Learn more about benefits for Ukrainian parolees and Afghan arrivals.

The information on this page comes from, Office of Refugee Resettlement, and other trusted sources. We aim to offer easy to understand information that is updated regularly. This information is not legal advice.