Closing a Hole in the Safety Net: Utah and Florida Make 18,000 Immigrant Children Eligible for Medicaid and CHIP

By Suzanne Wikle, CLASP 

Last month, in spite of the polarized political environment nationwide around both health care and immigration policy, legislators in Utah and Florida opted to provide access to affordable health care for 18,000 lawfully present immigrant children who had previously been excluded (1,000 in Utah; 17,000 in Florida).  With the addition of Utah and Florida, 30 states and the District of Columbia now allow lawfully present children, regardless of how long they have been in the United States, to be eligible for Medicaid and CHIP, providing them with affordable and comprehensive health insurance.

This step is significant because of the harsh history of denying even the most basic benefits to immigrants, including children. Provisions in the 1996 welfare reform law denied food stamp benefits (now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) to many  legal immigrants who arrived after the date of enactment, and imposed a five-year waiting period before most legal immigrants could qualify for other federally funded means-tested public benefit programs, such as Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Subsequent legislation allowed lawfully present immigrant children to access SNAP but required a five-year waiting period for adults. States could choose to assist some of these immigrant populations, but without any federal financial support.


Fr. Fred Kammer, SJ, is the lead JSRI liaison to Florida groups, assisted by other staff as appropriate.

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