Skip to content

Hirono Introduces Legislation to Restore Access to Federal Benefits for Immigrant Families

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) introduced legislation to reinstate access to federal benefits for immigrants, who currently must wait five years after entering the country before becoming eligible due to unjust policy enacted nearly 30 years ago. In 1996, Congress passed restrictive welfare and immigration legislation that created unnecessary barriers, including an arbitrary five-year waiting period, that delay access to crucial benefits and services for millions of immigrants. The Lifting Immigrant Families Through Benefits Access Restoration (LIFT the BAR) Act would remove these barriers and restore access to public programs including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for lawfully present immigrants, enabling these immigrants to access the benefits they need and deserve. Rep. Pramilla Jayapal (D-WA) has introduced companion legislation in the House.

“Immigrants have kept us healthy, safe, and fed on the frontlines of this pandemic—highlighting just how critical they are to our communities, while also bearing the brunt of this crisis,” said Senator Hirono. “Despite the vital role they play, unjust policy enacted nearly thirty years ago prevents tax-paying immigrants, including women and their children, from accessing critical services and programs, including health care, food and housing assistance, and more. As we work to build a more equitable society, the LIFT the BAR Act will help end decades of injustice and strengthen our entire economy by removing these arbitrary barriers and allowing millions of immigrants to live healthier, safer and more economically secure lives.”  

Specifically, the LIFT the BAR Act would:

  • Reinstate access to federal public benefits for lawfully present immigrants, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, individuals granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), and other federally authorized non-citizens residing in the United States;
  • Remove the five-year bar for Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP, TANF, and SSI; and
  • Enable immigrants with sponsors to access services based on the income and resources that are actually available to them, remove state authority to impose additional restrictions on qualified immigrants, and restore flexibility for states and localities to provide benefits to immigrants with their own funds.

The LIFT the BAR Act is supported by hundreds of organizations, including National Immigration Law Center, Center for Law and Social Policy, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, American Academy of Pediatrics, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, Children’s Defense Fund, Church World Service, Families USA, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, National Council of Jewish Women, National Education Association, National Employment Law Project, National Network for Arab American Communities, National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, National Women’s Law Center, Tahirih Justice Center, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI).

“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed deep inequities and made clear that our communities are stronger and healthier when all of us have access to services that meet our basic needs,” said Marielena Hincapie, Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center. “For 25 years, millions of people in the United States have been denied access to care and economic supports because of their immigration status. We are proud to support the LIFT the BAR Act, which would rectify a decades-old injustice and take a major step forward in addressing racial, wealth, and health disparities in this country. We thank Senator Hirono for her leadership and urge Congress to swiftly pass this legislation.” 

The LIFT the BAR Act is co-sponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Senator Hirono is a leading champion in the fight to expand access to federal benefits to lawfully-present immigrants. Last year, she introduced the bipartisan Compact Impact Fairness Act, which would reinstate access to federal benefits for citizens of the Freely Associated States living in the United States.