Public Charge: What Families Need to Know

The Trump administration has changed to the public charge test to expand the types of public benefit programs considered. Find out if this rule impacts your family and learn about what you need to do to keep your family safe and stable.

What is Public Charge?

“Public charge” has been a longstanding immigration test administered to immigrants entering the country or seeking permanent residency to determine if they will become primarily dependent on the government for financial support.

What’s happening?

Under the new rule, the definition of “public charge” is drastically broadened to consider whether a person is likely to use public benefits. This broader definition makes it harder for low-income immigrants to legally immigrate to the U.S. through family-based petitions or adjust their immigration status to become legal permanent residents.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could move forward in implementing it’s new “public charge” rule while lower courts consider the rule’s legality.

On Feb. 21, the Court also removed the last remaining injunction in Illinois, paving the way for the rule to go into effect nationwide on Feb. 24.

However, USCIS has explicitly stated that it will not consider an immigrant’s receipt of the newly listed benefits before Feb. 24, 2020 in the new public charge determination.

This rule is scary for families and communities they live in. It’s important for us to remember that we must fight fear with facts.

What is the NEW Public Charge Rule?

Under the new rule, the list of public benefit programs that can be considered is radically expanded to include the following vital assistance programs:

  • Non-emergency Medicaid (except for emergency services, children under 21, pregnant women and new mothers),
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, “EBT” or “Food Stamps”), and
  • Cash assistance programs (SSI, TANF and General Assistance)
  • Housing assistance like Section 8 and Public Housing.

*** Services not listed above will not be counted in the new public charge test. This includes WIC, CHIP, school lunches, food banks, shelters. These programs are safe to use if you are eligible to use them. ***

The rule also adds harsh new income thresholds that applicants, even those with sponsors, will have to meet to avoid a public charge assessment. For example:

A family of four would need to earn over $65,000 to avoid a public charge assessment.

The rule also explicitly states that an applicant’s inability to work because of age, either being too young or too old, or disability, will be a significant negative factor in their public charge assessment.

From the N.C. Justice Center:

Wondering if public charge applies to you?

This screening tool was developed by benefits experts and immigration lawyers to help communities understand if there is a public charge test for their immigration plans or status:

  • Go to keepyourbenefitsCA.org (English)
  • Go to TusBeneficiosPublicos.org (Spanish).
  • You can also access by text at 650-376-8006.
    • Text ‘benefits’ for English
    • Text ‘libre’ for Spanish
    • Text ‘福利’ for Chinese
    • Text ‘lợiích’ for Vietnamese

Who does Public Charge apply to?

Most immigrants who are subject to public charge are not eligible for the programs listed in the rule. Public Charge applies to:

  • People entering the U.S. with student, employment or family-based visas
  • People applying to adjust their immigration status to “Lawful Permanent Resident” (LPR or green card holder) status from a student, employment or family-based visa
  • Lawful Permanent Residents seeking to reenter the U.S. after being out of the country for six months or more.

Public Charge DOES NOT apply to

  • Asylum or Refugee status
  • Green Card renewal
  • TPS, U or T Visa status
  • DACA status or renewal
  • Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

Fear is the Trump administration’s real weapon. Facts are families’ best defense against it.

Get the facts to do what’s best for your family.

Know Your Rights:

From Protecting Immigrant Families:

You Have Rights – Protect Your Health October 24, 2019*
(An overview for mixed-status families when it comes to going to the doctor or enrolling in health insurance – Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign)

10 Facts About Access to Health Insurance for Immigrants and Their Families
(The ACA marketplace open enrollment period presents a great opportunity make sure immigrants and their families understand what recent threats mean for them as they seek health coverage. – CLASP, NILC, and NHeLP)