Responding to reports that a New Haven nonprofit agency was providing federally subsidized heating assistance to illegal immigrants in the city, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday that federal law bars illegal immigrants from receiving any federally funded benefits.
But the federal government cannot require the state to ask applicants for proof of citizenship.
"Congress has created another do not ask, do not tell policy - this time for energy assistance benefits," Blumenthal said.
The state Department of Social Services asked Blumenthal for a legal ruling on who is eligible for heating assistance after a whistle-blower earlier this year charged the Community Action Agency with providing heating assistance to illegal immigrants in New Haven.
A DSS audit later confirmed that the agency bypassed a computer field requiring a Social Security number, a common proof of citizenship, by using place-holder numbers or other measures.
Blumenthal also ruled that DSS, which oversees 12 agencies that process applications for heating funds, can require agencies to deny energy assistance to applicants who do not supply a Social Security number.
The agencies don't have a uniform policy on Social Security numbers.
David Dearborn, a DSS spokesperson, said Tuesday that the state agency will begin requiring applicants to produce a Social Security number to apply for heating assistance. It also plans to make clear that illegal immigrants aren't eligible for assistance, and it will implement an anti-fraud system to verify Social Security numbers.
Based on Blumenthal's opinion, the state agency will also develop a policy to allow illegal immigrants to apply for heating assistance if they live in a household with dependents who are U.S. citizens: children, elderly or disabled.
"It's good news. We have the legal authority to protect children and the elderly who happen to be in a household where the applicant is illegal," Dearborn said.
The DSS is to scheduled to announce its plan before a legislative committee today that will meet to determine how to disperse about $60 million in federally funded home heating assistance to low-income residents this winter.
Blumenthal would not comment on the audit's finding or reveal how many illegal immigrants in New Haven received assistance or how much was dispersed because it is part of his investigation.
Last year, the energy assistance program served about 86,000 households, each of which received a basic assistance of $675, plus a few hundred dollars for crisis and safety assistance.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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