On Thursday (June 15), House and Senate Democrats introduced a bill that would give immigrants immediate access to several federal benefits instead of having to complete a five-year waiting period.
Congress passed a law in 1996 that requires most immigrants to wait five years after obtaining official immigrant status before they can use Medicaid, food stamps, and other federal programs.
The requirement formed part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which passed in a 3-to-1 vote in the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
However, Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Tony Cardenas (Calif.), alongside Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), introduced a bill that would mean that the five-year waiting period would no longer apply.
Democrats shared that the “arbitrary” five-year waiting period would make it harder for immigrants to get “critical benefits and services.”
Speaking about the LIFT the BAR Act she introduced, Jayapal expressed being “proud” that “As an immigrant who came to this country alone at 16,” she was able to lead the legislation to “finally” remove “cruel, xenophobic, and unreasonable barriers to health care, nutrition assistance, and other life-changing public benefits.”
“Immigrants and families should not have to wait to access these basic services,” Jayapal added.
Hirono also described the existing legislation as “unjust” for causing “lawfully present immigrants” to have to wait for “quality health care, food and housing assistance, economic support, and more.”
Democrats said that by next year, non-elderly immigrants would make up about 8 percent of the total U.S. population but would account for a third of the non-elderly uninsured population.
Immigrant families need immediate access to federal benefits to “survive and thrive,” Cardenas said.