Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) is a program designed to help refugees transition to their new life in America. The program is sometimes also known as Entrants Assistance.
The RCA program is one of many state-administered programs that assist new refugees. Since these programs are offered at the state level, there may be variances in how the program operates in your area.
Who is eligible for Refugee Cash Assistance?
According to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, these are the requirements for this program:
- You need to verify your immigration status and date of arrival (or eligibility) with documents issued by the US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS).
- You need to provide the name of the agency that resettled you.
- You must meet immigration status requirements.
- You must be able and willing to participate in work and training requirements.
- You must meet income and resource requirements.
These are the same criteria listed by the California Department of Social Services. However, their program differs in some ways that I’ll describe below.
What are eligible immigration status requirements?
There are many statuses assigned to immigrants who arrive in the United States.
In order to be eligible for RCA benefits, you must be classified as one of the following:
- Cuban-Haitian entrant
- Certified victim of trafficking (and their eligible family members)
- Special Immigrant Visa holder from Iraq or Afghanistan
These are the requirements in Washington State and California as of this publication. Please check with your local state for updates, as other world circumstances may impact this list.
What are eligible income and resource requirements?
In order to be eligible for Refugee Cash Assistance benefits, the household must have less than $6,000 in total countable resources.
Like many other welfare programs, RCA does not consider all resources countable. For example, the first $10,000 in value of a vehicle that is used for transportation is not counted as a countable resource.
There are other factors that could make you ineligible.
Even if you meet all of the other eligibility requirements, there are other things that could make you ineligible for Refugee Cash Assistance benefits.
- You are not eligible for RCA if you are also eligible for TANF or SSI.
- You are not eligible for RCA if you’ve been denied or lost TANF because you were intentionally did not follow their rules and requirements.
- You are not eligible for RCA if you are a full-time college student.
- You are not eligible for RCA if you are receiving Matching Grant funds.
How much is Refugee Cash Assistance?
The Refugee Cash Assistance amount depends on a family’s household size and their earned income.
How long does Refugee Cash Assistance last?
Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) is a temporary program that is designed to ease the transition as refugees adapt to life in their new country. As such, the program only lasts a limited amount of time.
Eligible refugees can receive assistance for up to 8 months following their arrival in Washington. In California, the limit is 12 months. If you live somewhere else, you will need to check with your state to see what the limit is.
What can you buy with Refugee Cash Assistance?
Refugee Cash Assistance is usually paid on EBT cards, which have strict rules about what can and cannot be purchased. Although you can buy many things with EBT cash benefits, you cannot buy alcohol or use the cards at gambling establishments.
However, you can use the benefits to pay for:
- Hygiene items
- and other needs.
How to Apply for Refugee Cash Assistance
All new refugees are assigned a resettlement caseworker who can help coordinate benefits. You can also apply online using the state’s Department of Social Services website.
Each state has their own application, but here are some of the most common links we’ve been asked for:
FAQs about Refugee Cash Assistance
We get a lot of questions about Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA)! We’ve answered the most common ones below. If you have a question that isn’t listed here, please let us know in the comments.
Is it true that the government pays refugee benefits in the USA?
Yes! The government offers Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) to new refugees. This temporary program helps people adjust to their new life in the United States.
Are there other assistance programs for new refugees?
All refugees receive a cash grant when they first arrive in the United States. This is not RCA; it is simply a one-time payment of resettlement money, which can be used however the family wishes. It is often used for security deposits, clothing, transportation or other essentials. After all, most refugees arrive with only a few bags of luggage.
There is also a federal Match program that can help refugees pay for rent and basic living expenses for up to three months. Match pays up to $235 for each adult and $200 for each child for three months. This program is very limited, and only a handful of refugees are eligible to participate in a given year. In 2010 and 2011, only 50 households were selected. Households that participate in the Match program cannot participate in other state or local assistance programs.
Medicaid also offers Refugee Medical Assistance for up to eight months after arrival. After those 8 months, only the elderly (age 65+) and those on TANF can continue to receive medical benefits.
Elderly refugees may also be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. In order to be eligible, the recipient must be at least 65 years old. The amount of SSI benefits is usually around $674/month.
Can you get RCA and TANF at the same time?
No. Refugees who are eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) will not receive RCA. They will immediately begin receiving TANF instead. TANF has a five-year limit instead of an 8-month limit, so this is often a better option for refugee families that are eligible.