Senior trying to help immigrants

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DEAR SUN SPOTS: You and Sun Journal shine without spots. I hope my question won’t be too long for you to print.

I am in retirement and collect a pension plus some Social Security. I also work part time in a restaurant. Over the last 10 years I have met many fine Latinos and other immigrants. Some have become good friends. Some are excellent workers, better than many native Mainers.

The problem that bothers me is that their only source of income is their paychecks. If it’s a slow day, the restaurant, which depends on customers for its income, will send some people home. It’s no big deal for me if I only work three hours, but many of the others (mostly in their 20s, 30s and 40s) cannot possibly live on such an income.

It disturbs me very much to see people who speak little English, who want to work and earn money, walk away with only about $25 for the day.

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I have tried helping some over the years, but I can’t give away all my money. I have been told by some of my close friends that I am being taken advantage of and that I shouldn’t be so soft-hearted because these people get help from the city and the state. Is that true? All? Even single men in their 40s and 50s.

What is a green card? How often must it be renewed? Does it cost to get one? If so, how much? I have heard it costs $500.

Are food stamps free? Can all immigrants get food stamps?

Are there agencies in Portland that help immigrants with housing and doctor and dentist visits?

I have been told by close friends that these people are sending money back home to Mexico, El Salvador and other countries. They say, “You, stupid, are giving them money and they are sending it home to other countries.” — No Name, Portland

ANSWER: First off, Sun Spots does not think you are stupid. You are kind-hearted and open-minded. Any time the economy is poor there tends to be a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment and rumors about extravagant benefits often result. (This is true in other countries as well as the United States.)

You do need to be careful with your money, of course. You didn’t list any amounts. Are you giving someone $10 for gas so they can get to work or writing checks for thousands?

As for your questions, the answers are very complicated (and lengthy), but Sun Spots will try to address what she can.

A green card shows that an immigrant is a “resident alien” and allows them some rights. Once obtained, which is a lengthy process, it must be renewed every 10 years. According to www.us-immigration.com and www.uscis.gov/forms/uscis-immigrant-fee, the cost varies, but the current typical registration fee is $165. There are other costs, such as a medical exam, copies of paperwork, transportation, etc.

As for food stamps (the SNAP program), some qualified legal aliens can get food stamps, but they must be very poor and meet certain requirements for this free benefit. For example, able-bodied people between the ages of 18 and 60 must register for work to qualify for SNAP.

At http://ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10101.pdf it says: “Everyone who is applying must have or apply for a Social Security number and be either a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or have status as a qualified alien.”

At the same site, it explains just how poor you must be: “Generally, your household cannot have more than $2,000 in resources (things you own). But, if your household includes a person age 60 or older or who is disabled, the limit is $3,000. Resources of people who receive Supplemental Security Income or benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program are not counted for SNAP purposes. Resources include cash, bank accounts and other property.

“Not all resources you own count. For example, your home and the land it is on do not count for SNAP eligibility. A car or truck counts differently depending on how it is used. Most states now use TANF rules in place of SNAP vehicle rules if the TANF rules are more beneficial to the SNAP household.

“Most households also must meet an income limit. Certain things do not count as income and can be subtracted from your income.”

SNAP is a federal program but administered by the states, so benefits vary. A table at www.fns.usda.gov/pd/18SNAPavg$PP.htm lists benefits by state. For 2013 in Maine, the benefit was $122.79 per person per month.

There are agencies and charities in Portland and statewide to help immigrants get on their feet, but they are time-limited. There is not room to go through all they offer here, but there is some medical and legal assistance, as well as food and housing. Sun Spots does not know of any program that gives all immigrants a new car (an oft-stated urban legend).

Your friends may be right that some of the money you share is going to another country. Lots of immigrants come here to work to help families back home. So perhaps you are feeding a hungry child in Mexico or Somalia. Is that a bad thing?

Sun Spots thought of another way you could help your immigrant friends: Find them paying work. If your immigrant friends are strong and healthy, perhaps they could help some of your fellow seniors with chores around their homes that they no longer can do for themselves.

Lawn care, snow shoveling, hauling things, driving, heavy cleaning and more are just some of the things the Mr. Sun Spots did for his dad. Some seniors don’t have family to do for them and might appreciate having a hardworking young person to help at a reasonable price.

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be emailed to sunspots@sunjournal.com.

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