SNAP eligibility for legal noncitizens has changed since welfare reform

SNAP eligibility for legal noncitizens has changed since welfare reform

ERS’s SNAP Policy Database contains monthly data on a variety of State-level policies related to USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). These data are useful to people interested in factors that affect SNAP caseloads and SNAP’s effect on food spending, diet quality, and other outcomes. SNAP provides eligible, low-income households with monthly benefits to purchase food at authorized foodstores. The program has few nonfinancial eligibility criteria, so it provides benefits to a broad range of low-income households. However, legal noncitizens face restrictions on their SNAP eligibility. Welfare reform legislation in 1996 made most legal noncitizens ineligible for SNAP benefits. Subsequent legislation reinstated the eligibility of some legal noncitizens, such as those who met a 5-year residency requirement, and gave States authority to use their own funds to provide SNAP benefits to legal noncitizens who were barred under Federal law. A handful of States passed laws extending eligibility to all child, adult, or elderly legal noncitizens residing in their States who otherwise meet SNAP requirements. In October 2003, SNAP eligibility was restored to all legal noncitizen children under Federal law. Less than 4 percent of SNAP recipients in 2011 were legal noncitizens. Information for this chart can be found in ERS’s SNAP Policy Database.


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