Community Legal Advocates of New York
Advocating for All Communities

Public Assistance

What is Public Assistance and Who Qualifies for It?


The following only discusses general issues relating to Public Assistance (Welfare) in New York State. It does not constitute legal advice. Each situation is different and requires a specific legal analysis. Contact CLA for assistance.


In New York, what people sometimes call Welfare or Public Assistance (PA) is more formally called Temporary Assistance. Temporary Assistance is generally available to people who have little or no income and comes in the form of a cash payment. This payment is typically loaded on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card twice a month. 

What kinds of Temporary Assistance benefits are available?

There are two major Temporary Assistance programs - one for families with minor children and the other for single adults and families without children.

Family Assistance (FA) provides cash assistance to families with minor children. If found eligible, you can receive FA for a total of 60 months (5 years), but after that you may be eligible for the other program, Safety Net Assistance. 

Safety Net Assistance (SNA) provides cash assistance to qualifying single adults, childless couples and people otherwise ineligible for FA. After 2 years, SNA may be provided in the form of a voucher rather than a cash payment.  

Who qualifies for Temporary Assistance?

U.S. citizens, or non-citizens with a qualifying immigration status, who meet income and asset tests are eligible to apply. The definition of a qualifying immigration status varies depending on whether you are applying for FA or SNA, but can include being a green card holder, a refugee or asylee, a VAWA applicant and others. Consult with CLA if you would like to know if you are immigrant-eligible for Temporary Assistance. Undocumented parents of U.S. Citizen children may apply for benefits on behalf of their Citizen children.

Do I have to work to get Temporary Assistance?

Your local Department of Social Services (DSS) office will determine whether you are able to work. If so, then you will be required to participate in work activities to receive Temporary Assistance. That could include working, looking for work, being in a training program or attending school.

How do I apply for Temporary Assistance?

To apply for Temporary Assistance, fill out an application at your local Department of Social Services (DSS) or at a Job Center, if in NYC. To find your local application center check here: Local DSS Locations. Depending on the type of benefit for which you are applying, there may be more than one interview or requests for additional documentation.

What documents will I need to apply?

You will need to provide proof of several eligibility factors with your application.  Common documents requested are: proof of identification for all members of the household, proof of where you live, proof of living expenses (rent/mortgage payments, and utilities), employment status, immigration status and other income or assets you own.

How long does it take after I apply?

Depending on the type of benefit for which you are applying and your family composition, you should receive a decision within 30-45 days of the date you filed your application. Emergency assistance is available faster if you qualify and ask for it.

What is an “Emergency”?

There are urgent situations where you might be approved for assistance very quickly. These situations include homelessness, utility shut-offs, evictions and domestic violence.  Discuss these at the time of application to see if you qualify.

What is the difference between Temporary Assistance and Food Stamps?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly referred to as Food Stamps, is a monthly stipend which is also loaded on your EBT card but may only be used at participating vendors to purchase food. This money may not be withdrawn as cash and cannot be used to pay for other living expenses. You apply for SNAP at your local DSS office, but SNAP benefits have different eligibility criteria than the Temporary Assistance programs discussed above. Contact CLA for more information about whether you qualify for SNAP. 

What should I do if I am denied Temporary Assistance?

If you believe that you were improperly denied for Temporary Assistance, or if you disagree with an agency decision for any reason, you have the right to request a Fair Hearing.  At the Fair Hearing you will have an opportunity to explain to an Administrative Law Judge why you think the agency was wrong in their decision.  Even if you are trying to work out the problem with your case worker, you should protect your rights by immediately asking for a Fair Hearing. This request may be done online or by phone, mail and fax.

There may be other requirements or restrictions based on the specific facts of your situation.  If you believe that you qualify for Public Assistance and/or Food Stamps, contact CLA for further assessment of your situation.