Fighting Fear with Facts: Helping Families Understand Public Charge

As a member of the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign, a national coalition of organizations fighting to protect immigrant family stability, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has been working to educate the community on the local impact of the Trump administration’s new Public Charge rule.

The rule, which went into effect Feb. 24, expands the types of benefits considered in the “public charge” 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. 

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 (become green card holders).

Misinformation around the rule is also creating unnecessary fear for families who are not impacted. Immigrants without legal status do not qualify for most public benefits. Many immigrants with status who do qualify and all U.S. citizen family members are not subject to the rule.

Families are also scared to use resources that are not included in the rule such as Affordable Care Act Marketplace health coverage, local health programs, and school lunches programs.

That’s why families need to seek legal advice and understand their options before making any major decisions.

Medical-Legal Partnership coordinator Elizabeth Setaro has been leading the Advocacy Center’s efforts, appearing in local Spanish media and conducting presentations for families, healthcare providers and community groups that serve the immigrant community.

“Our goal is to help families fight fear with facts,” she said. “When families have the information they need, they can make informed decisions about what is best for their individual situations.”

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s health insurance navigators also participated in a report released last week by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) documenting the harm caused by the public charge rule before it was implemented. The report shows the chilling effect the rule has had on families using public benefits and seeking health care they are entitled to receive.

NILC interviewed health insurance navigators Andrea Mora and Johanna Parra, who provided firsthand accounts of the fear they have observed from families the Advocacy Center serves. Since the rule was proposed, Mora and Parra have had families who were not subject to the rule insist on withdrawing from benefits out of fear that continuing to use them would jeopardize their immigration status. 

The sad part of all this is that, mainly, all these consumers are already green card–holders. They are already residents, so some of them will apply for citizenship in a few years, some of them … have been given the green card …. [W]e have to explain, “You are already a resident, you won’t have any problem because this is a proposed rule that will affect from maybe when you are applying for residency, so that is not your situation.”

Quote from a Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy navigator featured in “Documenting through Service Provider Accounts Harm Caused by the Department of Homeland Security’s Public Charge Rule” published by the National Immigration Law Center.

This continues to happen even though the rule does not apply to most immigrants.

Now with concerns of COVID-19 spread, families may fear seeking testing or care if they worry about negative immigration impacts.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy continues to monitor the effects of this rule and is available to help families understand their options.

Learn more about Public Charge and its impact on our community:

Public Charge: What Families Need to Know
Ocho Cosas Que Debes Saber Sobre Carga Pública

Ocho Cosas Que Debes Saber Sobre Carga Pública

Tiene preguntas sobre la “carga pública”? Mire esta presentación de Elizabeth Setaro  del Centro Apoyo Legal de Charlotte para conocer cómo la carga pública y si afecta a su familia.

¿Qué es la carga publica?

La carga publica se refiere a una ley antigua de inmigración que dice que el gobierno puede negar entrada o la residencia permanente a un inmigrante que probablemente dependa del gobierno en el futuro.

¿A quién aplica la carga publica?

  • Personas que ingresan al EEUU con visas de estudiante, laborales o familiares
  • Personas con visa de estudiante, laborales o familiar que solicitan ajustar su estatus migratorio al estatus de residente permanente
  • Residentes permanentes que salen del país por seis meses o más y buscan reingresar a los EEUU

¿A quién NO aplica la carga publica?

  • Asilo o refugiado
  • Renovación de residencia
  • TPS, visa U, visa T
  • Renovaciones de DACA
  • Estado especial para inmigrante juvenil
  • Personas aplicando para ciudadanía

¿Cuáles beneficios son considerados para la carga publica?

  • Medicaid (excepto Medicaid de emergencia, menores de 21 años, mujeres embarazadas y nuevas madres)
  • Programa de asistencia nutricional, “estampillas de comida” o “cupones de alimento”
  • Programas de asistencia en efectivo (SSI, TANF, asistencia general)
  • Asistencia de vivienda como Sección 8 y Vivienda Publica
  • La mayoría de las personas sujetas a la regla no son elegibles para beneficios mencionados.

¿Cuáles beneficios NO son afectados por la carga publica?

  • Todos servicios no mencionados
  • WIC
  • CHIP
  • Mercado de salud, obamacare
  • Almuerzos escolares
  • Dispensas de alimentos
  • Asistencia de cuidado infantil

¿Qué va a pasar si uso beneficios?

  • El uso de beneficios no lo hará automáticamente un cargo publico
  • Los oficiales de inmigración deben examinar todas sus circunstancias para determinar si es probable que dependa del gobierno en el futuro.
  • Edad, salud, ingresos, educación, habilidades, otros
  • Factores positivos se pueden medir contra factores negativos

¿Use beneficios en el pasado, como me afectan los cambios?

  • Los cambios en la ley NO son retroactivos
  • Solo cuentan beneficios recibidos empezando el 24 de febrero
  • Beneficios recibidos antes de esa fecha siguen las reglas antiguas

¿Un familiar recibe estos beneficios, me afecta a mí?

  • Beneficios recibidos por los dependientes de un solicitante no pueden considerarse en la evaluación de la carga pública del solicitante
  • Incluir su nombre en la aplicación de su hijo NO significa que ha solicitado beneficios para usted

Supreme Court allows Public Charge rule to go into effect

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily lifted a nationwide court order blocking implementation of the Trump administration’s revised “public charge” rule. The 5-4 decision allows the rule to go into effect while legal challenges play out in lower courts.

This rule creates a discriminatory immigration system that only serves the wealthy. It targets immigrants legally seeking permanent resident status in the U.S., forcing them to choose between family unity and their ability to access basic needs such as food, shelter and health care.

“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.

For more than 100 years, the U.S. government has recognized that social supports like health care and nutrition help families thrive and remain productive contributors to society. The government has long clarified that immigrant families can seek health and nutrition benefits for eligible families without fear of harming their immigration case.

Today, families no longer have that assurance.

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.

While this rule directly affects a small number of people, fear surrounding it has already done considerable harm.

Last year, the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute’s Center for Children and Families reported that the U.S. saw its first increase in the uninsured rate for children in more than a decade. The Kaiser Family Foundation has also reported about half of community health centers reported people declining or withdrawing from coverage because of this regulation.

Locally Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has helped families who fear punishment for using benefits they are legally eligible to receive MORE than the instability created by going without this support.

The rule is a dangerous departure from our country’s proud identity as a nation of immigrants seeking the American Dream’s promise of opportunity earned through persistence and hard work.

Instead, of welcoming the “tired, poor, huddled masses” of the world to our country, this rule allows the wealthy to jump to the front of the line and cut off families who have waited years to reunite.

It punishes low-income people for wanting to legally live in the U.S. It denies vulnerable families the chance to even try to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.”

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy serves hardworking low-income immigrant families who deserve a fair shot at the American Dream.

Now that this rule will go into effect, we are certain that many more families will decline critical access to nutrition, healthcare and housing they are eligible to receive, creating more confusion for families who already live in fear and vulnerable to exploitation.

This chilling effect destabilizes families, and it will impact our community for years to come.

Building a strong community means helping families thrive. When families are too afraid to seek assistance to meet their basic needs, our whole community suffers. Family safety and unity should not have to come at the expense of stability.

From the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign:

What we can do RIGHT NOW

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.

Yes, the Supreme Court’s ruling allows the public charge regulation to take effect, but …

  1. This rule may not be in place forever. However, it is in place for now and needs to be considered when making decisions for your family.
  2. The Administration hasn’t said when the rule will take effect. Follow Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy for updates as we learn more from our national partners.
  3. The legal battle over this rule continues in the lower courts.


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

  1. Most immigrants who are subject to public charge are not eligible for the programs listed in the rule. 
  2. Get the facts to do what’s best for your family.
  3. Anyone with questions about how this rule will impact their family can contact Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.

The fight to ensure all families have the right to thrive isn’t over.

  1. This regulation goes against our national identity. We are a nation of immigrants and that’s what makes our country great. Everyone deserves a fair shot at the American Dream, not just the wealthy.
  2. Immigrant families and allies must fight this regulation on different fronts.
    • Get the facts to do what’s best for your family
    • Help the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign take this fight to Congress
    • Participate in the 2020 Census to ensure a complete and honest count. Urge others to participate.
    • Make sure your state and local government officials understand how this rule hurts our community.

9-30 Recap of Healthcare Hot Topics: Access to Care in N.C.

When it comes to health care in North Carolina, a lot is changing. Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and CareRing recently hosted a policy update to help residents understand what’s changing and how we can protect access to care in our community. Learn about what is happening and use these resources to stay informed.

Medicaid Transformation in North Carolina

North Carolina’s Medicaid program is changing. The state has contracted with private health insurance companies to manage health care for most N.C. residents who receive health coverage through Medicaid and NC Health Choice (CHIP). Find out what you need to know to prepare your family or your patients for these changes.

Find out what these changes mean for you and your family and what you need to do to continue receiving your Medicaid benefits.

Contact Charlotte Center
for Legal Advocacy
Becca Friedman (English)
Johanna Parra (Español )

Learn more about Medicaid Transformation in NC

Access to Care Under the Affordable Care Act

Despite misinformation, repeal attempts and significant budget cuts for outreach and advertising, the Affordable Care Act has enabled thousands of North Carolinians to receive affordable health insurance with protections from pre-existing condition exclusions and limits over the last nine years.

More North Carolinians would have access to affordable health coverage and care if the state were to expand it’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act by 2020, which would have provided $21 billion in federal tax dollars to the state and created 43,000 jobs.

Because the state has failed to expand its program, at least 200,000 N.C. residents fall into the Medicaid Gap, where their income is too high to qualify for the current Medicaid program while also being too low to qualify for financial assistance to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Despite N.C.’s failure to expand Medicaid, the state’s uninsured rate is at 11 percent and continues to decrease. Last year, Mecklenburg County had the highest number of enrollments in the state with 60,229 residents enrolling in a Marketplace plan; 53,878 received financial assistance, and 16,655 enrolled for the first time.

There are still more than 1 million N.C. residents who remain uninsured but eligible for coverage with financial assistance.

Open Enrollment Nov. 1 – Dec. 15 2019

Navigators are available Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. across Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Union counties, with enrollment events every Wednesday and Saturday. Make a free appointment today:

  • Call 1-855-733-3711

Learn more about the Health Insurance Navigator Project

Immigrant Access to Health Care in North Carolina

Over the last two years, immigrant families have been targeted by policy changes that have impacted their safety, security and stability.

As advocates for health care and immigrant families, we have the opportunity to fight fear with facts.


Immigrants — including naturalized citizens, lawfully present non-citizens and people who are undocumented — make up 13 percent of the U.S. population. The vast majority of children in immigrant families are U.S.-born citizens, which means they have access to the same health care and benefits as other U.S. citizen children.

Shift in Federal Immigration Policies

  • Increasing immigration enforcement
  • Removal of legal protections
  • Reducing access to public benefits

Impact on Health Care Access

  • Immigrant families, including those with lawful status, are experiencing resounding levels of fear and uncertainty.
  • Increased fears are having significant negative effects on the health and well-being of children that have lifelong consequences.
  • Immigrant families have growing concerns about participating in public programs.

What you can do

  • Understand these policies and how they impact our community
  • Help patients understand their health coverage options.
  • Make your voice heard! Hold policy makers accountable to protect and expand access to health care in our community.

Questions? Contact Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy

Class Action Notice: Hawkins v. Cohen

Hawkins v. Cohen (5:17-CV-581 E.D.N.C.) is a federal lawsuit filed in 2017 by Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and the National Health Law Program to stop illegal terminations of Medicaid benefits in North Carolina. 

The Court hearing the case has certified it as a class action. This means that the Court’s orders protect all North Carolina Medicaid beneficiaries from having their Medicaid terminated improperly (including transfer to Medicaid that only covers family planning services). 

The Court has issued a preliminary injunction ordering the N.C. Medicaid agency and all 100 county Departments of Social Services (DSS) to stop terminating or reducing Medicaid coverage until eligibility under all Medicaid categories has been considered and advance notice of the right to a hearing has been mailed.  

The Court’s order prohibits automatic terminations without any notice by the state computer, NC FAST, because a county worker failed to process a review of the case in the month it was due. This often happens in the following circumstances:

The Order also prohibits failure to consider all Medicaid categories before Medicaid terminates. Specifically, beginning in April 2019, for persons receiving Medicaid as a child, caretaker of a child, or pregnant woman, DSS will have to send a notice giving that person the opportunity to allege disability and then apply for Medicaid based on disability even though the person already gets Medicaid. If that application based on disability is timely filed, DSS cannot terminate Medicaid for that person unless that application has been denied.  

If you have any questions about this lawsuit or about your rights, you may contact the attorneys who filed the case, the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. You can reach these lawyers by calling this toll free number: 1-800-936-4971. You can also send the lawyers an email at hawkinsinfo@charlottelegaladvocacy.org.

You also may contact these lawyers if you want to report that you lost your Medicaid without a decision that you were no longer eligible for Medicaid under any category or without receiving advance written notice that your Medicaid would stop. There is no cost to you for any help that these lawyers provide to you.