On August 5, 2016, the agency heads of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a joint letter warning
- State and local agencies against treating immigration status as a bar to providing certain services to protect the life or safety of individuals or to services that are not considered to be a federal public benefit; and
- Benefit providers to ensure they do not engage in practices that deter eligible members of mixed-status households from accessing benefits essential to life and safety based on their national origin.
The warnings come to clarify the Obama Administration’s interpretation and enforcement position of the effect of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (“PRWORA” or “the Act”) restriction of immigrant access to certain public benefits, taking into account the Act’s exceptions for programs, services, or assistance necessary for the protection of life and safety as specified by the Attorney General.
In 2001, the U.S. Attorney General issued an Order specifying the programs, services, or assistance determined to be necessary for the protection of life or safety as follows:
- 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;
- Programs, services or assistance to help individuals during periods of heat, cold, or other adverse weather conditions;
- Soup kitchens, community food banks, senior nutrition programs such as meals on wheels, and other such community nutritional services for persons requiring special assistance;
- Medical and public health services (including treatment and prevention of diseases and injuries) and mental health, disability, or substance abuse assistance necessary to protect life or safety;
- Activities designed to protect the life or safety of workers, children and youths, or community residents; and
- Any other programs, services, or assistance necessary for the protection of life or safety.
The agencies’ August 5, 2016 letter available here reaffirms that immigration status is not a bar to providing certain services to protect the life or safety of individuals.
Concurrent with the agencies publication of the letter, the HHS Administration for Children and Families’ (ACF) Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) also issued a set of Frequently Asked Questions regarding the availability of services provided by short-term and emergency shelters for victims of domestic violence and their dependents available for review at here.
State and local agencies and benefit providers regulated by the agencies should affirm their practices comply with this agency position to avoid getting nailed for prohibited discrimination or other program rules.