Public benefits for refugees and asylees

The goal of public benefits is to provide for your basic needs until you can become independent. Here you will find information about the public benefits refugees may receive when arriving in the United States like cash and medical assistance, health insurance, refugee careers pathway, refugee cash assistance, refugee social services, and other services.

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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 United States, 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.

  • 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 U.S.

In the United States, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is responsible for providing opportunities to the new populations who need help to become part of society. Among the groups eligible for this program are refugees, asylees, Cuban/Haitian entrants, Special Immigrant Visa holders (SIV), victims of trafficking, and others.

The services ORR offers are in core areas (cash and medical assistance), health, employment/economic development, integration, and unaccompanied refugee minors.

Here are some of the benefits and services that you could receive:

Cash and Medical Assistance

Known as CMA, it reimburses states and providers for services provided to refugees. Under the Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA), all refugees receive medical care when they first arrive in the USA. As a refugee, you must complete a medical screening with a doctor. You may need to get immunizations against certain diseases. Depending on your age, your family size, and your state, 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 the date you entered the U.S. with a refugee or asylum status, from the date you were granted asylum status, or a date of certification by the Office of Refugee Resettlement as a victim of trafficking.

Health Insurance

To protect refugees for up to eight months under short-term health insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), refugees can access the marketplace to find low-cost health insurance and apply (if eligible) for programs like Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

You can call 1-800-318-2596 (TTY: 1-855-889-4325) to get information about insurance coverage or visit this site with resources in additional languages.

Refugee Careers Pathway

It’s a program to help refugees create their career plans, learning opportunities. It helps them receive mentoring and coaching, as well as to get vocational English language skills. Learn more about places where you can get this type of career support.

Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA)

RCA is a federally funded program. The federal government provides grants to the states for cash assistance for qualifying refugees and other humanitarian immigrants like victims of trafficking.

The Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) Program provides a small amount of money to refugees during the first eight months in the United States. 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.

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 challenging, and your case manager can help you. Sometimes, when you learn a new language and adjust 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 consist of scheduling your medical appointments, teaching you how to use public transportation, and helping you find other resources and programs in your community.

Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) is provided to individuals ineligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or MFIP for up to 8 months after arrival in the United States. Refugee Employment Services (RES) and Refugee Social Services (RSS) are available, so eligible persons attain self-sufficiency within this time. RCA participants may continue to receive Refugee Employment and Social Services after their RCA eligibility ends.

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Am I eligible for public benefits for refugees and asylees?

If you are a refugee who has been in the United States for less than eight months, you will get some help from the government. Many refugees qualify for RCA, but you may be eligible for a different program if you have a family with children or an elderly refugee. 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. Who administers and determines availability changes by state. 

Refugee Social Services (RSS)

The Refugee Social Services program helps refugees for five years after they arrive 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 to Refugee Social Services. First, it offers employment services. Employment specialists in the RSS can help you find 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 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 the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)

  • The ORR Unaccompanied Alien Children Program provides temporary custody and care to unaccompanied alien children who do not have 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 U.S. citizens and their immediate family members who have returned to the USA after problems overseas or are escaping from civil unrest or natural disasters abroad.

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.