Washington – Immigrants in Connecticut who receive provisional legal status under President Obama’s new executive orders will be eligible for Social Security and Medicare, but not food stamps or health care benefits provided by AccessHealthCT.

Under the president’s plan, undocumented immigrants whose children are citizens or U.S. residents can apply for provisional legal status if they’ve lived in the United States for at least five years, can pass a criminal background check, and have paid fees and their share of taxes.

That is expected to help thousands of migrants in Connecticut, which has an estimated 55,000 to 100,000 undocumented residents.

The White House said this week that those who receive provisional legal status, which must be renewed every three years, would be would be eligible to obtain work permits and a Social Security number. As a result, they would pay into the Social Security and Medicare programs through payroll taxes and be eligible for benefits.

But those immigrants who reach retirement age would have to work at least 10 years to become eligible for those programs and Congress or future administrations would have to extend Obama’s actions so that those immigrants would still be considered lawfully present in the country.

The years undocumented immigrants have worked and paid payroll taxes before they obtained legal status would not be counted.

Those who receive provisional legal status would continue to be banned from purchasing health insurance through AccessHealthCT, which provides tax subsidies to low-and-medium income people.  Nor would they be eligible for Medicaid, food stamps, heating assistance or other safety net programs in the state.

Yet there may be an uptick in enrollment in those programs anyway.

Many undocumented immigrants with children who are U.S. citizens don’t enroll the children in public benefits because they fear that giving family information to government agencies will result in their deportation.

Lucy Nolan, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!, a non-profit that helps individuals and families enroll in food stamps, said many undocumented immigrants in Connecticut “have a healthy distrust of the government.”

“Kids were eligible for food stamps, but their parents were afraid to enroll them because they were afraid they’d be turned in,” said Nolan.

She and others say with the fear of deportation gone, some of these immigrants may step forward to enroll their children in Husky, the federal/state health program in Connecticut, as well as food stamps and other benefits.

State agencies say they’re expecting new enrollees in government health care programs, but don’t know how many.

“Some portion of them will come forward,” said Jason Madrak, AccessHealthCt’s chief marketing officer, of children who have qualified for Husky and not enrolled. “The challenge is coming up with numbers.”

David Dearborn, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Social Services, said “traditionally, there has been awareness that some foreign-national parents may be reluctant to enroll their U.S. citizen children when the parents are in the country illegally, although it would be difficult to quantify how many eligible children went without coverage because of that factor. ”

“Overall, Connecticut has always welcomed all U.S. citizen children who are eligible for Medicaid/HUSKY Health,” Dearborn said. “But it’s logical to assume that as more parents gain lawful status, there would be less reluctance on the part of some to engage the health coverage system on behalf of their U.S. children.”
The Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project says that about 4.2 percent of kindergarten through 12th grade students in the state have undocumented parents. That’s more than 20,000 children.

The Pew Research report said most of these schoolchildren were born in the United States and are U.S. citizens.

Jane McNichol, executive director of the Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut, said there’s been “a lot of confusion” in the state’s immigrant community as to who is eligible for government benefits and who is not and that confusion is likely to continue unless government agencies take action.

“I’m sure there are now kids who are now eligible for programs who are not enrolled,” she said.

McNichols said there‘s a need for more Spanish-language information and explanation of benefits in Spanish.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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