August 11, 2016
HHS, HUD and DOJ Issue Letter to State/Local Agencies Regarding Life and Safety Benefits for Immigrants
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 making clear that immigration status is not 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. It also makes clear that benefits providers must 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.
By way of background, in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (“PRWORA” or “the Act”), Congress restricted immigrant access to certain public benefits, but also established a set of exceptions to these restrictions including programs, services, or assistance necessary for the protection of life and safety as specified by the Attorney General. In 2001, after consulting with other Federal agencies, including HUD and HHS, the Attorney General issued an Order specifying the programs, services, or assistance determined to be necessary for the protection of life or safety as follows:
(a) 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;
(b) Short-term shelter or housing assistance for the homeless, for victims of domestic violence, or for runaway, abused, or abandoned children;
(c) Programs, services or assistance to help individuals during periods of heat, cold, or other adverse weather conditions;
(d) Soup kitchens, community food banks, senior nutrition programs such as meals on wheels, and other such community nutritional services for persons requiring special assistance;
(e) 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;
(f) Activities designed to protect the life or safety of workers, children and youths, or community residents; and
(g) Any other programs, services, or assistance necessary for the protection of life or safety.
The agencies’ August 5, 2016 letter thus reaffirms that immigration status is not a bar to providing certain services to protect the life or safety of individuals.
To read the joint agency letter, visit OCR’s website at: http://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/special-topics/national-origin/joint-letter-august-2016/index.html.
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. To access the FAQs, visit http://www.acf.hhs.gov/fysb/resource/faqs-access-fysb-funded-dv-services-20160810.
To report national origin discrimination in Health and Human Service programs, please contact HHS’s Office for Civil Rights at 1-800-368-1019, 1-800-537-7697 (TDD), by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the website https://ocrportal.hhs.gov/ocr/smartscreen/main.jsf.
To learn more about non-discrimination and health information privacy laws, your civil rights, and privacy rights in health care and human service settings, and to find information on how to file a complaint, visit us at www.hhs.gov/ocr.
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