Immigrants Rights and Public Benefits

Immigrant Access to Public Benefits Programs 
Immigrants are part of the cultural, civic, and economic fabric of New Mexico. One in ten New Mexicans is an immigrant, and one in nine have immigrant parents. Immigrant families provide essential and critical contributions to our economy, labor force, and tax base yet  face unfair barriers to programs that help families with basic needs. 

The Center has provided advocacy for over a decade to improve the public benefits program for immigrant families. We have expertise on the complex rules that determine whether immigrants are eligible for each program, and we provide information to help community members and advocates navigate the system. Please call us if you have any questions about your eligibility for a program below.

Many immigrants qualify for public benefits in New Mexico:
Overview of all programs and who qualifies

Immigrant Eligibility Chart for all Benefits Programs:
English Spanish

See resources below for specific information about available assistance for immigrant families on each program:

Food Assistance
Cash Assistance
Child Care Assistance
Public Charge








Important Rights for Immigrant Families Seeking Benefits

  • If you do not qualify, you can apply and receive benefits for other family members.
  • Immigration status and social security are only required for family members that will receive benefits. For example, children may be able to receive benefits even if their parents do not qualify for the program.
  • Social Security Numbers may not be required to get approved.
  • You have a right to prove household income in different ways and to get assistance if needed.
  • You have a right to get application help in the language you speak. Resource on Language Access Rights: English Spanish
  • Getting benefits will not trigger a public charge test for many immigrants.

Expanding Access to Child Care Assistance

The Child Care Assistance program helps low-income parents get care for their children while they are working or participating in an approved educational program to support their future employment. In recent years, enrollment in Child Care Assistance has been declining, despite the fact that there has been a steady increase in the number of New Mexicans eligible for the program. Statewide data shows that only 10% of eligible children are currently enrolled in Child Care Assistance.

The Center provides technical assistance and support to the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD, which administers the Child Care Assistance Program) to improve the program’s policies and procedures and bring them into compliance with the law. We help the State adopt best practices in the administration of Child Care Assistance which will make it easier for families to apply for or renew their benefits.

Child Care Assistance Toolkit

The Child Care Assistance Toolkit resources are designed to assist direct service providers and individuals applying for or participating in Child Care Assistance. The materials contain important information about the rights of applicants and participants, including detailed information about what to do if benefits are reduced or terminated. The resources also contain forms that applicants and participants can use to seek exemptions from program requirements.

Educating the Community and their Advocates about Public Benefits

The Center is widely considered to be a ‘go-to’ source of information and technical assistance for New Mexico’s advocacy community on issues around public benefits. Acting as an information hub and legal resource, we provide high-quality, accurate, and accessible materials and training to a wide audience, including advocates, community members, service providers, and even program administrators. We provide training and materials to help thousands of low-income families achieve better access to public benefits assistance.

To learn more about public benefits programs in New Mexico, visit our page How to Apply for Public Benefits. Click here to view our library of public benefits resources.

Advocates can apply to join the NM Public Benefits Network, a listserv moderated by the Center. The NM Benefits Network is a new online forum for advocates and direct service providers in New Mexico to exchange information, share technical assistance, and identify resources and strategies that will improve access to means-tested public benefits for low-income New Mexicans, including:

  1. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  2. Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  3. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  4. Medicaid
  5. Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  6. Child Care Assistance
  7. General Assistance (GA)
  8. Refugee Cash Assistance
  9. Tribal Benefit Programs (TANF, GA, LIHEAP, WIC)

Who should join the NM Public Benefits Network?
We welcome advocates, social workers, caseworkers, and direct service providers to join the NM Public Benefits Network. The NM Public Benefits Network does not include persons associated with the state and federal agencies responsible for administering public benefits programs in New Mexico.
Click here to join the NM Public Benefits Network.

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Eliminating Barriers to Public Benefits for Eligible Families

Difficulties with the Human Services Department’s administration of the benefits programs create barriers that too often prevent qualified individuals from receiving assistance when they need it. These barriers can take the form of a lack of legally required services, such as the failure to provide adequate assistance to clients with disabilities or limited English proficiency. Barriers can also include unnecessary or illegal application requirements, like demands for excessive documentation.

To resolve these barriers and other application and renewal issues, the Center uses legal advocacy under the Debra Hatten-Gonzales consent decree—a longstanding court order requiring the New Mexico Human Services Department to follow certain procedures in the administration of SNAP and Medicaid.

The corrective action that the state is now taking, as a result of our litigation, will make it easier for all eligible people to access their benefits and stay enrolled in the programs. These are a few of the specific improvements that directly resulted from our legal advocacy:

  • We had the state improve how it screens for and delivers emergency food assistance to clients who are most at risk for hunger, bringing the Human Services Department into compliance with federal law and providing expedited SNAP benefits to thousands of New Mexicans in dire need. As a result of our advocacy, more than 6,400 people per month are now receiving expedited food assistance.
  • We compelled the state to suspend the automatic, computerized denial of benefits cases, so that cases will no longer be denied or closed until a caseworker reviews them.
  • We persuaded the Human Services Department to re-write all of its client notices to be individualized, accurate, and easy to read, as required by federal law. These notices are sent to over 1 million clients each year.
  • We convinced the Department to rewrite all of its administrative regulations for Medicaid and SNAP over the next two years in order to bring them into compliance with federal law. Center staff will be reviewing and commenting on all of these administrative regulations. This is a tremendous opportunity for the Center to have incredible input on policies that affect access to healthcare and food assistance for the 1 in 3 New Mexicans who currently utilize Medicaid and the 1 in 5 New Mexicans who currently utilize SNAP.

Project Resources

TANF Toolkit

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Improving Economic Security Through Cash Assistance Programs

The cash assistance programs are a last bastion of our safety net, meant to provide very poor families with some relief from the worst aspects of deep poverty by offering small monthly stipends for limited amounts of time. These programs include the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF, formerly known as welfare), which helps families with children living in deep poverty meet their basic needs such as housing, utilities, and clothing costs, and the General Assistance program, which provides a small amount of cash assistance to very poor, often homeless, people with disabilities.

Despite the importance of these programs, participation in them has been steadily decreasing—even as poverty rates have grown. For example, enrollment in TANF has dropped by 40% since 2011.

These enrollment decreases can be attributed to serious problems with the state’s administration of these programs, as well as policy changes that have narrowed eligibility for them. The Center is advocating to resolve the most injurious administrative issues and expand eligibility rules. This work will impact the poorest families in our community, since only those with net incomes below 28% of the federal poverty level even qualify for the TANF program. By increasing access to TANF and General Assistance, more people will receive help meeting their practical, everyday needs, allowing them to move towards self-sufficiency.

TANF Toolkit

The TANF Toolkit resources are designed to assist direct service providers and individuals applying for or participating in TANF. The materials contain important information about the rights of TANF applicants and participants, including detailed information about what to do if benefits are reduced or terminated. The resources also contain forms that applicants and participants can use to seek exemptions from program requirements.

Informational Materials:

Forms to Assist TANF Applicants and Participants:

Other Project Resources

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Defeating Hunger

Poor nutrition, especially in children, has a life-long impact. Research shows that even a few weeks of sustained malnutrition at the wrong time can damage a young child’s cognitive development and limit his or her potential for life. With the second-highest overall poverty rate in the country—and nearly one-third of our children living in poor households—hunger is prevalent in New Mexico. As a result, hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps) every day to feed their families. Unfortunately, poor administrative practices by the state cause eligible families to lose benefits and face long delays in receiving assistance, even under emergency conditions. For example, in 2014, the state had a waiting list of applicants roughly 10% the size of the entire recipient pool.

The Center works to improve administration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program so that hungry New Mexicans can find help when they need it most.

Get Help Applying for SNAP
Trained Roadrunner Food Bank staff and volunteers can help you apply for benefits provided by the State of New Mexico’s Health and Human Services Department. They will answer questions about SNAP, help you with information about how the process works, assist you in successfully completing an application and connect you with other valuable resources.

  • Start by completing this short online form.
  • You can also call toll-free at 844.684.6268 or email
  • Feel free to apply directly to the State of New Mexico’s online service called YESNM.

Project Resources

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