New public charge rule finalized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
A new “public charge” immigration regulation finalized on Sept. 8 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) adds critical protections to secure immigrant families’ access to the health and social services safety net. “Public charge” refers to an immigrant who is likely to become primarily dependent on certain public benefits, such as government cash assistance programs. It is often used as a ground for inadmissibility, which is one reason why an immigrant may be denied a green card or a visa to live and work in the United States. With the finalization of this new rule, the Biden administration makes it safer for lawfully residing immigrants to access public benefits without jeopardizing their path to citizenship.
The rule explicitly excludes some critical benefits from public charge determinations, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Child’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicaid (other than for long-term use of institutional services), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and benefits related to immunizations or testing for infectious diseases. Benefits including Supplemental Security Income (SSI), cash assistance under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), state/Tribal/local/territorial cash assistance, and long-term usage of institutional services under Medicaid will still be considered for public charge.
The new rule makes it clear that an individual’s potential to apply for benefits or receive benefits in the future does not count as “receipt of public benefits.” It clarifies that assisting family members with benefits’ applications does not count either. Factors such as age, health, income, family size, and education will be considered equally in public charge determinations, and the rule makes it harder for future presidents to change public charge policy. The Biden administration’s finalized public charge rule will go into effect on Dec. 23, 2022.
Despite these improvements, public charge rules continue to instill fear and anxiety in immigrant families, which can deter applicants from pursuing benefits that they may be eligible for. For example, the Migration Policy Institute found that despite Medicaid being excluded from public charge considerations, many parents are still hesitant to enroll their eligible children. Communication strategies related to public benefits should be explicit about their public charge implications.
Health First Colorado (Colorado’s Medicaid program) now covers family planning benefits for folks who otherwise would not be eligible due to their immigration status. This Reproductive Health Care Program, established through the passage of SB21-009, is now accepting enrollment. Covered services include a 12-month supply of contraception, permanent contraceptives, and basic fertility assessments. Enrollment in this program does not count against public charge determination at this time. Eligible Coloradans can enroll at Health First Colorado’s website.
Learn more about the new public charge rule by visiting the following resources:
- The Biden Public Charge Regulation: What Does it Mean for Immigrant Families? – Protecting Immigrant Families (pifcoalition.org)
- DHS Publishes Fair and Humane Public Charge Rule | Homeland Security
- What Advocates Need To Know September 2022 (pifcoalition.org)
- Does Public Charge Apply to Me? – Protecting Immigrant Families (pifcoalition.org)