Income of an immigrant’s sponsor

Overview of sponsor deeming

Some immigrants to the United States have “sponsors” who signed an agreement promising to support the immigrant financially, to help the immigrant obtain lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. [8 U.S.C. § 1183a; 7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c); MPP §§ 63-102(s)(7), (8).] This agreement is called an “affidavit of support.” [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(1); MPP §§ 63-102(s)(7), (8).] For a period of time, most of the income and resources of an immigrant’s sponsor and the sponsor’s spouse may be “deemed” to be available to the sponsored LPR when she applies for CalFresh benefits. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(2); MPP § 63-503.493.]

Not all immigrants have sponsors, and only certain persons who immigrated through a family-based petition have their sponsor’s income deemed to theirs. LPRs whose sponsor signed a legally binding affidavit of support (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-864) on or after December 19, 1997 are subject to the deeming requirements. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(2); MPP § 63-102(s)(7).]

Exceptions to sponsor deeming

There are many exceptions to sponsor deeming, however. Sponsor deeming, if applied properly, should disqualify very few immigrants from receiving CalFresh benefits. The sponsor deeming rules do not apply to the following people:

  • Immigrants who do not have sponsors. This includes refugees, asylees, parolees, persons granted withholding of deportation, and certain battered spouses and children. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(3)(iii); MPP § 63-503.492(c).]
  • Immigrants whose sponsors have not signed the Form I-864. This group includes immigrants who obtained their green cards before December 19, 1997 as well as those who obtained their green cards after that date, but whose sponsors signed other affidavit forms (e.g., Form I-134). Similarly, immigrants sponsored by organizations are not subject to the deeming rules in the CalFresh program. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(3)(ii); FNS Guidance, p. 11; MPP § 63-503.492(b).]
  • Immigrant children (i.e., under age 18) even if the child has a sponsor who signed Form I-864 after December 19, 1997. [7 U.S.C. § 2014(i)(2)(E); 8 U.S.C. § 1631(d)(3); see FNS Guidance.] Once the youth turns 18, the deeming will occur (unless indigent) but the household is not required to report the birthday and the county may delay reviewing program eligibility and sponsor deeming until the next certification period. [ACL 11-06E.]
  • Immigrants who live in the same household as their sponsor. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(3)(i); MPP § 63-503.492(a).]
  • Immigrants who have been battered by their spouses or parents, or whose children have been battered, in some circumstances. [8 U.S.C. § 1631(f); 7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(3)(v); MPP § 63-503.492(e).] This exception applies during a 12-month period, provided the battered individual does not live with the batterer. [8 U.S.C. § 1631(f); 7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(3)(v); MPP § 63-503.492(e)(1).] The exception can be extended for additional 12-month periods if the immigrant demonstrates that the battery is recognized by a court, administrative order, or by the USCIS, and if the CalFresh office determines that the battering is substantially connected to the need for benefits. [8 U.S.C. § 1631(f); 7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(3)(v); MPP § 63-503.492(e)(2).] Note that, for purposes of the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) for immigrants, this exception is not time limited. [Welf. & Inst. Code § 18932(c); MPP § 63-403.2.]
  • Immigrants who qualify for an “indigence exception” because their household’s income, plus any support actually received from the sponsor, is below 130% percent of the poverty level. [8 U.S.C. § 1631(e); 7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(3)(iv); MPP § 63-503.492(d).] See ACL 11-06, for clarification that determination of indigency should be made prior to requesting verification of income. In determining whether an immigrant qualifies for this exception, the CalFresh office will count all assistance the sponsor actually provides, including the value of in-kind assistance (such as shelter) if the in-kind aid is actually provided. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(3)(iv); MPP § 63-503.492(d)(1)(A); ACL 11-06E.]

“In-kind” aid from a sponsor

For something to be determined to be in-kind income from the sponsor, the immigrant must receive “regular and continual purchases.” [ACL 11-06E.] The counties will use the CalWORKs in-kind valuation, but through a 10-day notice requesting verification, immigrants can verify a lower value of the in-kind aid. [Id.] Conversely, irregular or temporary help is not treated as in-kind assistance. “Quid pro quo” exchanges for value (such as work for shelter) is not aid in-kind. [Id.]

Per a FNS policy memo, the State agency is not required to verify a sponsor’s income or resources when determining if a sponsored immigrant meets the indigence exception. This exception must be re-evaluated every 12 months. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(3)(iv); MPP § 63-503.492(d)(1)(B).]

If an immigrant receives CalFresh benefits under this exception, the CalFresh office must report the names of sponsored immigrant and his sponsor to the United States Attorney General. [8 U.S.C. § 1631(e); 7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(3)(iv); MPP § 63-503.492(d)(1)(C).]

Because of this last requirement, the state agency must explain the purpose of the indigency finding. If the immigrant does not give consent to release the sponsor information to the Attorney General, the state agency can render only that immigrant ineligible, not the other non-sponsored household members. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(3)(iv).]

Duration of sponsor deeming

In the federal SNAP program, sponsor deeming ends when:

Counting the sponsor’s income

Not all of the income and resources of the sponsor and the sponsor’s spouse are “deemed” to a sponsored LPR. The first $1,500 of the countable resources of the sponsor and the sponsor’s spouse are not deemed to the sponsored LPR. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(2)(iv); MPP § 63-503.493(b)(1).] When a household is categorically eligible, resources of the sponsor shall not be “deemed.”

Before deeming the sponsor’s and sponsor’s spouses income, the CalFresh office must make certain deductions:

  • First, the CalFresh office must deduct 20% of the earned income of the sponsor or the sponsor’s spouse. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(2)(i)(A); MPP § 63-503.493(a)(1)(A). (All the regular income and resource exclusions apply in terms of what is countable.)]
  • Second, the CalFresh office must deduct an amount equal to 130% of the federal poverty level (which is the same as the CalFresh gross income limit) for the sponsor’s family, including all family members who could be claimed as dependents on the sponsor’s federal income tax forms. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(2)(i)(B); MPP § 63-503.493(a)(1)(A)(ii).].
  • Finally, if the CalFresh applicant can show that his or her sponsor is sponsoring other LPRs, the CalFresh office must divide the sponsor’s income and resources by the number of LPRs sponsored and deem only a pro-rata share to each sponsored LPR. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(c)(2)(v); MPP § 63-503.493(c).]

No income or resources shall be deemed when the sponsor is residing within a CalFresh recipient household.

Sponsor cooperation

If the CalFresh office must count the sponsor’s income, the sponsored LPR must get the sponsor to tell the CalFresh office what his income and resources are. [7 C.F.R. § 273.11(c)(4); MPP § 63-405.71.] The LPR also must get the sponsor to give the CalFresh office any verification it needs. [7 C.F.R. § 273.11(c)(4), (5); MPP §§ 63-405.7, 63-300.5(e)(8)] Until the CalFresh office is told how much the sponsor has in income and resources, the LPR cannot get CalFresh benefits. [7 C.F.R. § 273.11(c)(4); MPP § 63-503.494.] This is true even if the LPR does not know where the sponsor is and even if the sponsor refuses to help. [7 C.F.R. § 273.11(c)(4), (5); MPP § 63-503.494(b).] The CalFresh office must help the sponsored LPR get the verification she needs. [7 C.F.R. §§ 273.2(f)(5), 273.11(c)(5); MPP § 63-300.5(e)(8)(I).]

Note, however, that there is no requirement to obtain this information from the sponsor if the immigrant is exempt from deeming. [FNS Guidance, pp. 11-12].

Other people in the sponsored immigrant’s household

Other people in the sponsored LPR’s household may still get CalFresh benefits even if the sponsored LPR does not qualify. All or some of the income and resources of the sponsored ineligible immigrant may count as income and resources to the other people in the household. [7 C.F.R. § 273.11(c)(3); MPP § 63-503.442.] The income and resources of ineligible immigrant household members will be pro-rated.