Say NO to Public Charge

December 7, 2018

What is Public Charge?

When an immigrant applies for Legal Permanent Residency or a green card, part of that application is a “public charge assessment”, which tests for use of government benefits assistance. In September, changes to Public Charge were proposed that would expand the number of benefits programs considered and change assessments to make it easier for an immigrant’s application to be denied. As a healthcare navigator and a gateway for immigrants to enroll in SNAP and health insurance, AAFSC is opposed to the new rules, which will punish immigrants for legally using the services they are eligible for and create a chilling effect of fear that can hinder immigrants’ use of all public benefits.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services describe Public Charge as an individual who is likely to become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance, or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” In other words, if someone has relied on cash assistance, or seems very likely to become dependent on cash assistance, they may be classified as a “Public Charge.” Currently, the only benefits programs explicitly covered are TANF and SSI. “Long term institutionalization”, refers to using government assistance, like Medicare, for an extended stay in a long term care facility, nursing home, or psychiatric hospital.

However, having relied on these benefits does NOT mean someone will automatically be considered ineligible for a green card. A “totality of circumstances” is considered – this includes these factors: age, health, financial status, assets, and resources, family status, and education and skills. Most importantly, a sponsoring U.S. citizen can file an affidavit of support, which proves that an applicant would be financially independent and not reliant on government assistance, and that the sponsor is financially capable of supporting the applicant.

Currently, Public Charge is assessed when someone in the U.S. is applying for a green card, not when applying for citizenship or making any other visa changes. It is important to remember that some immigrants are exempt from Public Charge considerations – green card holders, refugees, asylees, survivors of domestic violence, and human trafficking survivors are all exempt.

What changes are proposed?

The number of benefits programs that will be considered would be expanded to include many more, including SNAP, non-emergency Medicaid, Section 8 Housing, and Medicare Part D for low income people. The affidavit would also become significantly less important. This would make it much more difficult for immigrant families who have relied on government services to become legal permanent residents and, later on, citizens.

Additionally, income would become heavily scrutinized – families making less than 250% of the Federal Poverty Level – or $63,000/year for a family of four – would be subject to more intense examination and more likely to be rejected.

What is happening now?

As of now, nothing has changed regarding Public Charge. We encourage individuals to continue utilizing important public benefits for the health and safety of all family members. Immigrants, immigration lawyers, and activists across New York City and the entire country are trying to stop the rule from changing. As part of U.S. law, the rule is currently in a “public comment period”, meaning that the public can go online and submit feedback on the rule. The government is required to read and respond to each comment before moving forward with the rule change. Please take the time to voice your concern about the implications of such an inhumane policy.

You can submit comments directly at up until December 10th, 2018.

Guidelines for submitting comments:

In the meantime:

If you are part of or work with communities that may be affected, educate yourself and the community to the best of your ability. Stay on top of current news and developments, especially after December 10th.

There has been an increase in people abandoning in services preemptively because of this proposed changes. Do your part by encouraging community members not to do this. Remind them that no rules have been changed yet, and we do not know if, how, or when they will be changed. Until we have more information, disenrolling is harmful if you are in need of services. These services are helpful to keep families healthy and fed, which will decrease their likelihood of relying on benefits in the future.

It is also important to remember that many services will NOT be affected by the new rule. WIC, CHIP (or Child Health Plus), tax credits, education programs, and state and locally funded programs will remain exempt.

Feel free to reach out to AAFSC’s Legal Services team to have your questions answered – call us at 718-643-8000 or email

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