Mass. stopped providing assistance to immigrants in 2002; this bill would reverse that


Thousands of legal immigrants in Massachusetts are barred from getting government assistance due to a federal law. However, a pair of lawmakers have introduced a bill to provide immigrants with the benefits they need.

What would the bill do?

The bill titled, The An Act establishing basic needs assistance for Massachusetts immigrant residents, would restore a program that provides basic needs like food and cash benefits for legal immigrants, much as SNAP benefits — formerly known as food stamps — do for U.S. citizens.

Why is it important?

Roughly one in every six Massachusetts residents are foreign-born, according to The Immigrant Learning Center. Nevertheless, a significant number of legal immigrants haven’t been able to access SNAP benefits and other forms of assistance since the passage of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. The Act, which was signed under former U.S. president Bill Clinton, made it significantly harder for some legal immigrants to access government benefits including SNAP.

Despite the federal law, Massachusetts continued to provide its immigrants with access to SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families through state funding until 2002, when the program was discontinued.

With the state’s shelter system overwhelmed by an influx of migrants, prompting a state of emergency declared by Gov. Maura Healey, advocates have argued that Massachusetts urgently needs to reinstate its pre-2002 migrant assistance policy.

Who supports the bill?

The House bill was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Antonio F. D. Cabral, D-Bristol and Rep. Judith A. Garcia, D-Suffolk. Since it was proposed the bill was sponsored by over 50 legislators.

Backers of the bill said that they are hopeful to see it gain steam this legislative session as House Speaker Ron Mariano supported the state’s immigrant assistance program in 1997, the Boston Globe reported.

The bill has also drawn support from immigrant advocacy organizations including the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and the Feeding Our Neighbors Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to government assistance toward legal immigrants.

How much would it cost the state?

If passed, the bill would cost the state $18 million in the fiscal 2024 year, the Globe reported.

The funds would equate to an average of $180 a month in SNAP benefits for 8,000 to 12,000 immigrants, the Globe said. And an average of nearly $300 per month in cash benefits for 1,000 to 1,500 immigrant families.


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