Counting “quarters of work” for legal immigrants (if at all)

California exception

As a practical matter, for immigrants living in California and waiting to qualify for federal CalFresh benefits, there is no immediate need to count “quarters of work” to determine eligibility for CalFresh benefits. The California Food Assistance Program (CFAP), a special California-specific program that provides state-funded CalFresh benefits for resident legal immigrants, provides benefits to immigrants in the absence of their qualifying for federal CalFresh benefits. Just saying.

(So, hold that thought as you review the rest of this page.)

How the 2002 Farm Bill reset the effect of the “40 quarters of work” requirment

The 2002 Farm Bill significantly expanded SNAP eligibility for non-citizens residing in the U.S. in a qualified alien status for five years.  Generally, an LPR must have worked for 10 years cumulatively before becoming eligible to participate in SNAP. Since an LPR becomes eligible for SNAP after residing in the United States for five years, whether or not he or she has any qualifying quarters as a result of the 2002 Farm Bill, the 40-quarter requirement is now only applicable in limited cases. Lawful permanent residents who have been in the United States less than five years may claim 40 qualifying quarters of work by claiming quarters credited from the work of a parent earned before the applicant became 18 or from the work of a spouse to be eligible for SNAP. See, generally, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Guidance on Non-Citizen Eligibility (“Federal Guidance”), page 14.

Federal requirements for counting work quarters

For federal SNAP benefits, many non-citizens must pass two thresholds before becoming eligible for benefits: First, the non-citizen must gain qualified immigrant status. Second, many qualified immigrants must also pass a second condition [See Federal Guidance, page 2; 7 C.F.R. § 273.4(a)(6)(ii)(A).] Although less likely than in the past, one of those second conditions may be that the LPR immigrant has to document she has 40 qualifying work quarters.

To get 40 quarters of work to qualify for federal SNAP benefits, the legal immigrant household member can count quarters she has worked, quarters her spouse has worked, and quarters her parents worked before she turned 18. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(a)(6)(ii)(A).] There are many work requirement exceptions and conditions that apply. [Id.]

Of note, these include work legally covered by Social Security, regardless of the person’s immigration status at the time the work was performed. [See Federal Guidance, page 19.] Some non-covered earnings, like certain agricultural earnings, also count. [SSA POMS SI 00502.135.] However, quarters worked in another country cannot be counted.

Special rules apply in divorce situations as well. If the immigrant is found eligible for benefits using both hers and her spouse’s work quarters, then a subsequent divorce would not change her eligibility status. However, if SNAP eligibility has not been determined at the time of divorce, then her spouse’s work quarters would not count towards meeting her 40-quarters of work requirement. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(a)(6)(ii)(A)(1).]

If the total number of quarters from the legal immigrant’s work, their spouse’s work and their parents’ work (before the legal immigrant turned 18) is 40 or more, the immigrant applicant can get federal SNAP benefits. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(a)(6)(ii)(A).] The legal immigrant’s spouse and children can also count the quarters one has worked in order for them to get to 40 quarters of work. [Id.]

A legal immigrant household member cannot count any quarter during which they received any “federal means-tested benefit.” This includes SNAP benefits like federal CalFresh benefits, SSI, CalWORKs (California’s TANF program) and non-emergency Medicaid. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4 (a)(6)(ii)(A)(2).] Similarly, a parent’s or spouse’s quarters are not countable if they received any federal means-tested public benefits in that quarter. [Id.]

The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has determined that CalFresh benefits are “federal means-tested public benefits.” But once an immigrant satisfies the 40 quarters of work requirement, eligibility for CalFresh will not be revoked by one’s applying for means-tested public benefits. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4 (a)(6)(ii)(A)(2).]

Missing or unknown work quarters

If someone is a lawful permanent resident and thinks they have 40 quarters of work in the United States, the SNAP office will have to verify the quarters of work. The SNAP office will ask the Social Security Administration for the legal immigrant’s records. The legal immigrant will have to sign a release form so that Social Security can give the SNAP office her records. If the legal immigrant household member wants to count the quarters of her spouse or parent, the they would also have to sign a release. If the legal immigrant’s Social Security records do not show 40 quarters of work but an applicant thinks she has 40 quarters, she can ask the Social Security Office to assist her in filling in the missing records. [See, generally, Federal Guidance, p. 14.]

To fill in any missing records, the legal immigrant will have to get proof of work. One can try to prove work by collecting old pay stubs, getting statements from old employers or getting statements from other workers who worked with the person at the job.

The Social Security office may not have the most recent quarters someone worked because it takes some time for the Social Security records to be updated. In that situation, the legal immigrant will have to give the SNAP office other proof of her work. If she does not want to wait for Social Security to fix her records, she can request a fair hearing. (See the sections about notices and fair hearings for more details about how that process works.). At the fair hearing, the SNAP applicant can present proof of her past work.