HUD, HHS, DOJ Remind Service Providers Not to Use Immigration Status to Withhold Vital Services

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and HUD issued a joint letter on August 5 reminding recipients of federal financial funding that they must not withhold certain services based on a person’s immigration status when services are necessary to protect life or safety. This is not a new policy but one the Administration deemed important to restate.

The “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996” (PRWORA) does restrict access to certain public benefits for non-citizen immigrants. However, it also established exceptions to the restrictions based on a three-pronged test. Programs, services, or assistance may be provided to non-citizen immigrants if the aid is:

  1. In-kind service provided at the community level by nonprofit organizations,
  2. Not conditioned on a beneficiary’s income or resources, and
  3. Necessary to protect life or safety.

The joint letter reminds recipients of federal funding that if the three-pronged test is met, benefits must be made available without regard to citizenship, nationality, or immigration status.

In 2001, after consulting with HUD and HHS, the Attorney General issued Attorney General Order No. 2353-2001, specifying seven types of programs, services, or assistance determined to be necessary to protect life or safety. For example, the first two are:

  • Crisis counseling and intervention programs; services and assistance relating to child protection, adult protective services, violence and abuse prevention, victims of domestic violence or other criminal activity; or treatment of mental illness or substance abuse.
  • Short-term shelter or housing assistance for the homeless, for victims of domestic violence, or for runaway, abused, or abandoned children.

Even if a program does not meet any of the exceptions, PRWORA does not prohibit “qualified aliens,” which include battered immigrants and victims of human trafficking, among others, from receiving certain benefits.

In addition to the exceptions described in the Attorney General Order, PRWORA has other exceptions. For instance, Medicaid is available for treatment of an emergency medical condition, including labor and delivery for pregnant women. Public health assistance for immunizations and for testing and treatment of symptoms of communicable diseases can also be provided. Title IV of PRWORA provides that nonprofit organizations are not required to verify the immigration status of applicants for federal, state, or local public benefits.

The joint letter reminds recipients of federal financial assistance that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination, including discrimination based on national origin. Therefore recipients must take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to services for people with limited English proficiency.

The joint letter is at: