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53. Will receiving SNAP benefits hurt my immigration status?

ALERT:  Many of the rules in the SNAPAdvocacy Guide do NOT apply during the pandemic. Please go to the following COVID-19 & DTA benefits page: https://www.masslegalservices.org/DTA-COVID-19 until further notice for more information about changes.

The “public charge” test has been part of federal immigration law for decades. It is designed to identify people who may depend on government benefits as their main source of support. If the government determines someone is likely to become a “public charge,” the government can deny admission to the U.S. or refuse an application for lawful permanent residency (Green Card).

In August 2019, the Trump Administration announced a rule that would change longstanding public charge policy. The rule would redefine “public charge” to include not only immigrants who receive cash benefits or need long-term care, but also people with disabilities, those deemed to have limited earning potential, and participants in many “safety net” programs used by millions of working Americans. It would make it much easier to shut out anyone earning less than 250% of the federal poverty line ($64,375 for a family of four). The rule is not retroactive. This means that the new changes will not be used by immigration officials until after the rule goes into effect. Further, multiple lawsuits have been filed to stop the rule.

However, as this Guide goes to print, the status of this rule change is not certain. The Supreme Court voted on January 27, 2020 to allow the Administration to move ahead with the rule change while the lawsuits make their way through the courts.

We encourage you to consult the below resources and learn the facts before you stop any important benefits – like SNAP - that help you and your family stay healthy.

  • Some immigrants are not subject to the public charge determination- such as refugees, asylees, or green card holders (LPRs) seeking US Citizenship.
  • People should assess their individual situation in deciding whether to enroll in a public benefit program.
  • There may be no advantage to disenrolling from a program at this time.

MLRI has a flier about SNAP and the impact of the public charge rule. Go to MassLegalServices.org/publiccharge for the most up to date version.

State and privacy rules prohibit state workers from sharing information about you with immigration authorities, unless you give written permission. The information on your SNAP application is private. 106 C.M.R.§360.400. See DTA Brochure, “What Non-Citizens Need to Know.” Appendix D.

To be sure you get accurate information, consult an immigrant specialist if you are applying for a "green card" or other legal status in the U.S.

For updates and information on public charge:

DTA Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Noncitizen > Noncitizen Introduction

Additional Guidance: