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Are You a CBO or the INS?
Your Comments Are Needed!

October 14, 1997

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

The passage of last year's welfare reform legislation, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), Pub. L. 104-193, imposed dramatic restrictions on the ability of legal immigrants to access public benefits. In order for some of the provisions of the law to be implemented, the Clinton administration is required to interpret a couple of key definitions in the law. The administration's interpretations are critical because they will essentially determine whether legal immigrants continue to have access to a number of critical health and social service programs. In addition, these interpretations will clarify which health and social service providers are required to verify immigration status before delivering services.

The administration has released interpretations of some key definitions and is currently seeking public comment. Of note to community-based service providers is that the Department of Justice (attorney general's office) is charged with developing a list of "unrestricted federal benefits" -- programs that will not require certification of immigration status before services are administered.

We urge you to submit comments on this list and to encourage others in the HIV/AIDS advocacy and immigration rights communities to do the same.

The following provides an overview of the "unrestricted federal benefits" definition and suggestions for comments. We have also included instructions for accessing the Federal Register notice (if you do not have Internet access, please contact AIDS Action for a fax copy).

Department of Justice/Attorney General's List of Unrestricted Federal Benefits (Deadline for comments: November 14, 1997)

The attorney general has been charged with creating a list of programs that would be exempt from the requirements of the welfare reform law and for which undocumented individuals would remain eligible to receive services. Service providers for programs on this list will not have to check the immigrant status of clients. All other federal benefit programs will.

The programs on the list must be non-means-tested, federally funded community programs and services that are necessary for the protection of life or safety. Specifically, these programs must:

  1. deliver in-kind services at the community level (through either public or private non-profit agencies);

  2. provide assistance (or the cost of assistance) without requiring documentation of an individual recipient's income or resources; and

  3. provide services that are necessary for the protection of life or safety.
In August, the attorney general released the following provisional list of unrestricted federal benefits and programs that are exempt from the welfare law:
  • Short-term homeless shelters

  • Soup kitchens, community food banks, and nutrition programs

  • Violence prevention programs

  • Medical and public health services, including prevention and treatment of diseases and treatment for mental illness and substance abuse

  • "Any other programs, services, and assistance necessary for the protection of life and safety"

The attorney general is now calling on community-based organizations, state and local governments, and federal agencies to comment on the need to include other programs.

AIDS Action:

Submit your comments to the attorney general before the November 14 deadline. Argue that HIV/AIDS-related programs and services must be provided to clients without proof of citizenship. Programs that should be included in the exemption list include all Ryan White-funded programs, HIV prevention programs, Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA), and McKinney Homeless Assistance programs. Some of these programs, such as HOPWA, may have some income requirements for the provision of services.

In your comments, it is critical that you:

  1. stress the importance of these programs as components of a comprehensive strategy to control the epidemic and to protect the life and safety of the members of your community;

  2. acknowledge the eventual economic impact that would result from refusing any individual access to these essential services (the earlier health care is provided, the better); and

  3. emphasize the burden it would place on your agency's staff to check the immigration status of each client and his or her family. This could also jeopardize the relationship of trust between service provider and community -- especially critical in promoting prevention and anonymous testing.

Your comments must also include the name of any law that governs the administration of the program you are addressing. For example, you might state that the services provided by your agency are administered under Title I (II, III, IV, V) of the Ryan White CARE Act, which is funded through the Health Resources and Services Administration. For housing services, refer to the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA) program or McKinney programs funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. For HIV prevention programs, refer to the Division of HIV/STD/TB Services at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you have questions regarding the attorney general's list of "unrestricted federal benefits," please call Javier Salazar at (202) 986-1300, extension 3051.

Deadline for comments: November 14, 1997. Please mail your comments to:

Wendy L. Patten, Counsel
Office of Policy Development
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

To access the Federal Register notice on-line:

  1. go to:
  2. For the specification of community programs necessary for protection of life and safety under welfare reform legislation, enter: the date: "8/30/96" and "page 45985"
  3. For the request for comment on specifications, enter: the date "9/15/97" and "page 48308"

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

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  • Glossary Glossary

This article was provided by AIDS Action Council.
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