Manual Breaks Down Gov’t Benefits for Immigrants

The Immigrant Services Manual is available in eight languages, both in print and online.

The Immigrant Services Manual is available in eight languages, both in print and online.

In some New York City immigrant communities, rumors about public benefits stop even the neediest from applying for services they’re eligible to receive. Myths circulate that receiving public benefits can affect credit scores or a child’s chance of receiving college financial aid, and immigrants who qualify for public services shy away from redeeming them.

The Immigrant Services Manual is designed to dispel some of the rumors and misinformation surrounding public benefits for city immigrants and their families.

Issued by a group of organizations led by the Fund for Public Advocacy, a nonprofit affiliated with the Office of the New York City Public Advocate, and including the New York State Office of New Americans and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the manual provides concise information on public services available to immigrants and immigrant families.

“None of this should be a mystery – if benefits are available, people should be able to make use of them,” said Fatima Shama, the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “This manual will be a go-to.”

The manual lists city, state and federal benefits ranging from Earned Income Tax credit to Head Start to health insurance programs and marks whether green card holders, immigrants of various legal status (such as refugees and asylum seekers) and the undocumented are eligible for the benefit. It then describes how to qualify for the service, where and how to apply for it and what website to visit.

César Perales, the Secretary of State of New York, said that he believes the manual will help protect immigrants from scam artists both in and out of New York City. Perales said that scammers who deceive immigrants eligible for public benefits into paying for help to secure eligibility are widespread.

“I think that making this available to service providers and having it online will go a long way toward protecting individuals from being taken advantage of,” said Perales.

Shama said that the manual, available in print and online in eight different languages, will be a tool for volunteers and workers serving immigrant communities.

“We need to make sure the front-line workers at community organizations understand and have easy access to information on the services available,” said Shama. “They are our surrogates – this guide will help them inform immigrant communities and provide assistance.”

She added that the resource will be particularly useful to families of mixed documentation status. In situations where certain family members are undocumented, Shama said, “people are sometimes afraid of receiving benefits and afraid of what they don’t know.”

The manual launched Thursday at an event at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Representatives of city government offices and community-based organizations came together to recognize and discuss the resource and its uses.

Access to the Immigrant Services Manual is available online in English, Arabic, Chinese (Traditional), Russian, Spanish, Bengali, Haitian Creole, and Korean.

“Many immigrants live outside the city. This document is helpful to them too,” said Perales. “As a state official I see it as having potential impact all over New York. The fact that it is online in seven languages other than Enlgish makes this extremely important.”

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