Updated May 22, 2019
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 1996, Congress passed a welfare reform act containing some provisions that made it much harder for immigrants to qualify for the federal SSI program. California started the CAPI program in 1998 as a way of providing state funds 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).
To qualify for CAPI, you must show that you are eligible for SSI except for your immigration status. That means that you must not have more than $2,000 in resources for an individual or $3,000 in resources for a couple. In addition, you must meet SSI’s income guidelines. DSS calculates income and resources using the same rules that Social Security uses for SSI.
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 INS. 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. If you are a victim of abuse by your sponsor or your sponsor’s spouse, if your sponsor has died or become disabled, or if you have worked and earned wages for at least 40 quarters, then your sponsor's income will not be deemed to you. In addition, if you can show that you will be unable to provide food and shelter for yourself without CAPI, DSS can waive the deeming rule for you.
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.
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:
There are ten categories of PRUCOLs:
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.
The amount of a person’s CAPI benefit varies depending on the person’s living arrangement, income, and marital status. Starting in mid-2019, 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). (Previously, it was slightly less than the SSI/SSP amount.)
In the first half of 2019, the maximum CAPI benefit for an elderly or disabled single person living independently is generally $921.72, and for an elderly or disabled married couple living independently, it is $1,544.14. If you qualify for CAPI because of blindness, then the 2019 maximum is $978.23 for an individual living independently, and $1,695.19 for a couple living independently (both eligible for CAPI).
On June 1, 2019, the payments increase so that the maximum CAPI benefit for an elderly or disabled single person living independently is $931.72, and for an elderly or disabled married couple living independently, it is $1,564.14. The maximum for an individual who is blind and living independently is $988.23, and $1,715.19 for a couple who is blind and living independently (both eligible for CAPI).
If you have some countable income or you live in a group home or nursing home, then your CAPI benefit may be less than these maximum numbers. If you have no cooking facilities, your CAPI benefit may be slightly higher.
If you live in a public institution that has 16 or more residents for more than 30 days, you will lose your CAPI. 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.
When applying for CAPI, it is best to have a letter from Social Security that is dated within the last six months, showing that you are not eligible for SSI because of your immigration status. If you have not applied for SSI yet, go ahead and apply for CAPI anyway because the DSS staff can make an independent determination that you are not qualified because of your immigration status, or they can give you directions about where and how to apply for SSI.