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"Public Charge" Rule and What it Can Do

29 November 2018

The “public charge” test has been used to identify people who depend, or may depend, on government assistance for their primary source of financial support. A “public charge” can be used as a grounds for denial for immigrants applying for citizenship. Under the current policy, immigration officers decide if a person is likely to become primarily dependent of government assistance. Currently, only two benefits are considered in the public charge test. Cash assistance such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), and government institutionalization for long term care. 

In October, the government announced a proposed regulation that will radically change the “public charge” test. Under the new proposed change, low to moderate-income families will face more challenges and difficulties when trying to change their immigration status. A new definition of “public charge” will change from someone who uses government assistance as their main source of support, to someone who is likely at any time in the future to receive public assistance. Additional benefits that would be considered under the change include SNAP, Medicaid, Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage), and federal housing assistance programs. The new rule also considers factors such as age (children and seniors), health conditions, household size, income, education, and credit history (negative or low credit scores) as weighing negatively in “public charge” decisions. 

Some groups of immigrants—such as refugees—are not subject to “public charge” determinations. A charge is also not a consideration when lawful permanent residents (green card holders) apply to become U.S. citizens. The proposed rule doesn’t affect an individual’s eligibility to receive public benefits. However, families will be faced with a difficult choice. If they receive public benefits, it will count against them and jeopardize their immigration application if they are to adjust their status at a later point. The new rule would force immigrant families to choose between permanent legal status and access to basic needs like food, housing, and health care. 

Community Action Agencies embody our nation’s spirit of hope, change people’s lives, and improve communities. Many Community Action programs and community initiatives are intended to create opportunities and remove barriers that block people’s way to economic security. For Community Action Agencies, this proposed rule will have a large impact on the people we serve. Hunger, poor housing, and poverty are issues we see families face every day. Food insecurity and lack of preventative healthcare can lead to increased health expenditures; weakened housing programs may increase homelessness; and fear in our immigrant communities can lead to largescale disenrollment of families from public benefit programs – even programs that will not be affected by the rule. It is estimated that 26 million people may be afraid to participate in programs that make their families healthier and stronger. 

The rule has been published in the Federal Register, and the public can comment on it until December 10. Comment today and let them know how the proposed rule would harm those you work with and your communities.