California's Cash Assistance Program (CAPI): Disability Benefits for Immigrants

If you can't get SSI disability because you're an immigrant, you may be able to get CAPI from the state of California.

By , J.D. · University of Virginia School of Law

Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants, known as "CAPI," is a California-state-funded program that provides monthly cash benefits to disabled (or elderly) people who would be eligible for SSI except for their immigration status.

In the 1990s, Congress passed welfare reform that made it much harder for immigrants to qualify for the federal SSI program. California started the CAPI program as a way of providing cash aid to elderly, blind, and disabled immigrants who had lost the ability to qualify for SSI. CAPI is administered by the California Department of Social Services (DSS).

What Benefits Does CAPI Provide to Immigrants?

CAPI pays eligible immigrants a monthly cash benefit that varies depending on how much income an applicant has, if any, and whether an applicant is married or lives alone. The CAPI program uses the same payment structure as the SSI program and California's state supplement program. CAPI participants can also qualify for food stamps, Medi-Cal, and In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS).

Who Is Eligible for California's Cash Aid Program?

To qualify for CAPI, you must show that you're eligible for SSI except for your immigration status. That means that you must not have more than $2,000 in resources (assets) for an individual or $3,000 in resources for a couple. In addition, you must meet SSI's income guidelines. The Department of Social Services calculates income and resources using the same rules that Social Security uses for SSI.

How DSS Will Deem Income from Your Sponsor

Depending on your immigration status, if you have a sponsor, California may count part of your sponsor's income as your own. That process is called "deeming" income from your sponsor to you. If your sponsor lives with a spouse, then the state may also deem a part of the spouse's income to you.

The deeming rules apply whether or not your sponsor actually gives you any support. The rules vary depending on when you entered the country and which Affidavit of Support form your sponsor signed with the USCIS. However, in general, your sponsor's income is subject to deeming for ten years from the time you entered the country or the date the Affidavit of Support was signed, whichever is later.

There are exceptions to the deeming rules. DSS can waive the deeming rules (not count your sponsor's income) for you if:

  • you're a victim of abuse by your sponsor or your sponsor's spouse
  • your sponsor has died or become disabled
  • you've worked and earned wages for at least 40 quarters (10 years), or
  • you can show you'll be unable to provide food and shelter for yourself without CAPI.

Residency Requirement for CAPI

CAPI is only available for residents of California. There is no certain period of time that you must live in California to qualify for CAPI. Instead, you must be physically present there when you apply, and you must intend to remain there indefinitely. If you are out of California for more than 90 days, you may have to prove that you are still a resident. In addition, CAPI recipients who leave the United States for an entire calendar month will risk losing their benefits for that time.

Immigration Status Required for CAPI

To qualify for CAPI, you must be either a "qualified alien" or a "Permanent Resident Under Color of Law" (PRUCOL). The eight categories of qualified aliens are:

  • non-citizens who are Lawfully Admitted for Permanent Residence (LAPR)
  • non-citizens who have been granted Cuban/Haitian entrant status
  • refugees who entered the United States under Section 207 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA)
  • non-citizens who have been granted status as asylees under Section 208 of the INA
  • non-citizens whose deportation is being withheld under Section 243(h), or whose removal is being withheld under Section 241(b)(3) of the INA
  • non-citizens paroled into the United States for at least one year under Section 212(d)(5) of the INA
  • conditional entrants admitted to the United States under Section 203(a)(7) of the INA as in effect before April 1, 1980, and
  • battered non-citizens, children of battered spouses, or parents of battered children, with a petition pending under Section 204(a)(1)(A) or (B) or 244(a)(3) of the INA.

There are ten categories of PRUCOLs:

  • non-citizens subject to an Order of Supervision
  • non-citizens on whose behalf an immediate relative petition (INS Form I-130) has been approved and who are entitled to voluntary departure and whose departure the INS does not contemplate enforcing
  • non-citizens who have properly filed an application for an adjustment to LPR status that INS has accepted as "properly filed" and whose departure INS does not contemplate enforcing
  • non-citizens granted a stay of deportation and whose departure INS does not contemplate enforcing
  • non-citizens residing in the United States under an indefinite voluntary departure
  • non-citizens granted voluntary departure but whose departure INS does not contemplate enforcing
  • non-citizens in deferred action status
  • non-citizens who entered and have continuously resided in the United States since before January 1, 1972
  • non-citizens granted a suspension of deportation but whose departure INS does not contemplate enforcing, and
  • non-citizens granted an indefinite stay of deportation.

If you meet one of the "qualified alien" or "PRUCOL" categories but do not qualify for SSI because of immigration status, then you qualify for CAPI.

How Much Is CAPI?

The amount of cash assistance available to immigrants through CAPI varies depending on the person's living arrangement, income, and marital status. The CAPI amount is the same as the combined SSI/SSP amount (SSP stands for State Supplementary Payment, an extra payment California adds on to the federal SSI amount).

For 2022, the maximum CAPI benefit for an elderly or disabled single person living independently is $1,040.21, and for an elderly or disabled married couple living independently, it's $1,765.64. For those who qualify for CAPI because of blindness, the 2022 maximum is $1,110.26 for an individual living independently, and $1,952.88 for a couple living independently (both blind and eligible for CAPI).

If you have some countable income or you live in a group home or nursing home, then your CAPI benefit will be less than these maximum numbers. If you have no cooking facilities, your CAPI benefit will be slightly higher.

If you live in a public institution that has 16 or more residents for more than 30 days, you'll lose your CAPI benefit. A public institution is one that is run by the state or federal government. Most people who are affected by that rule are people who live in jails or prisons.

How to Apply for California's CAPI Program

When applying for CAPI, it's best to have a letter from Social Security that's dated within the last six months, showing that you're not eligible for SSI because of your immigration status. If you haven't applied for SSI yet, go ahead and apply for CAPI anyway, because the DSS staff can make an independent determination that you're not qualified for SSI because of your immigration status. Or, they may give you directions about where and how to apply for SSI.

To apply for CAPI, visit your local DSS office. If you can't visit an office, call 877-481-1044 to receive an application by mail.

Updated September 9, 2022

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