Public benefits for refugees

The goal of public benefits is to provide for your basic needs until you are able to become independent. Here you will find information about the public benefits for refugees you may receive when you arrive in the USA. You will learn about other services and support from the the government refugee agency, ORR.

small child and baby refugees in USA

Public benefits for refugees are different from the rations you may have received in a refugee camp. Rations in a refugee camp continued as long as you lived in a camp. In the USA, you can only receive public benefits for a certain amount of time. Once you start working and earning an income for your family, you will stop getting public benefits. But most refugees say they feel very proud once they have a good job and can take care of themselves and their families.

  • Public benefits for refugees can be confusing. You must complete a lot of paperwork to get public benefits.
  • Not all public benefits for refugees are money. You can get other help such as job training, English lessons, and other services to help you become independent in the USA.

Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA)

The Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) Program provides a small amount of money to refugees during the first eight months you are in the USA. You will need to use the money to pay your basic expenses like rent for your house/apartment and electricity bills. You will have to follow the requirements of the RCA contracts and then receive monthly RCA checks.

Budgeting for your expenses in the USA can be very hard because you have to pay for things you may not realize. You may need to learn how to use debit cards and US banks.

As part of the RCA program, you will also receive eight months of case management from your resettlement agency. The first eight months of being in the USA can be very difficult and your case manager can help you. Sometimes, when you are learning a new language and adjusting to life in the USA, you may misunderstand what is happening or why you must do certain things. Your case manager can help you adjust to life in the USA. We recommend you attend as many meetings and programs as possible with your caseworker.

The RCA program may also include other things to help you adjust to life in the USA. The program may include scheduling your medical appointments, teaching you how to use public transportation and helping you find other resources and programs in your community.

The RCA also helps you to be connected with Refugee Social Service (RSS) program for employment assistance and for long-term case-work to meet individual need.

Am I eligible for public benefits for refugees?

If you are a refugee who has been in the USA for less than eight months, you will get some type of help from the government. Many refugees qualify for RCA but if you have a family with children or if you are elderly refugee, you may qualify for a different program. Your resettlement agency will help you apply for the correct public assistance program.

If you are receiving federal cash assistance such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you are not qualified for Refugee Cash Assistance. This means you can only receive either Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) or federal cash assistance such as TANF or SSI, not both.

Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA)

All refugees receive medical care when they first arrive in the USA. As a refugee, you are required to complete a medical screening with a doctor. You may need to get immunizations against certain diseases. Depending on your age, your family size, and what state you live in, you will qualify for a different medical program from the government. Your resettlement agency will help you apply for medical assistance.

Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA) is a program that provides healthcare for refugees.  You can receive RMA for up to eight months from from the date you entered the U.S. with a refugee or an asylee status, or a date that you are granted asylum status, or a date of certification by Office of Refugee Resettlement as Victim of Trafficking.

Refugee Social Services (RSS)

The Refugee Social Services program helps refugees for five years after the arrival in the United States. Refugee Social Services includes employment services, job training, educational services, including English as a Second Language instruction and immigration assistance, case management services, and other support services.

There are two main parts in Refugee Social Services. First, it offers employment services. Employment specialists in the RSS can help you finding appropriate employment. Employment specialists will maintain contact with you on your employment case on at least a once-monthly basis. They will discuss job opportunities, apply and interview for jobs, practice for upcoming interviews, and more.

The RSS program also helps with case management for you to be able to take care of your family.

Translators and interpreters in legal settings

In legal settings, you have a right to have an interpreter and a translator. Unless you are a fluent English speaker, it is a good idea to use an interpreter. Legal information can be hard to understand, even in your first language.

Other services provided by Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)

  • The ORR Unaccompanied Alien Children Program provides temporary custody and care to unaccompanied alien children who do not have an immigration status.
  • The ORR Anti-Trafficking in Persons Program (ATIP) identifies and serves victims of human trafficking, assisting foreign trafficking victims in the United States to become eligible for public benefits and services to the same extent as refugees.
  • The Voluntary Agencies Matching Grant Program works with the Refugee and Cuban Haitian Entrant Reception and Placement program.
  • The ORR Repatriation Program provides help to US citizens and their immediate family members who have returned to the USA after problems overseas, or who are escaping from civil unrest or natural disasters abroad.

Learn more

The information on this page comes from the Office of Refugee Resettlement and other trusted sources. It is intended for guidance and is updated as often as possible. USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice. If you are looking for a free or low-cost lawyer or legal help, we can help you find free and low-cost legal services.

Refugees shaking hands

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