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Immigrants and Public Benefits - Public Charge Information

Date: 
03/29/2021
Author: 
MLRI
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This page has information about an immigration policy called Public Charge. It is generally safe to get benefits you and your family are eligible for. See below for more information. This information is not legal advice. If you have questions, contact an immigration attorney.

Public Charge Questions and Answers

What is the public charge rule?

Some immigrants applying for a green card or applying for admission to the U.S. are asked questions by immigration officials about use of certain public benefits. The purpose of these questions is to help determine if an immigrant is likely to become a “public charge” (not able to support themselves). If the government determines someone is likely to become a “public charge,” the government can deny admission to the U.S. or deny an application for lawful permanent residency (Green Card). Some immigrants may be asked by federal immigration officials whether they applied for or used two types of public benefits:


  1. programs that pay for long-term care in a medical institution such as a nursing home, and

  2. Needs-based cash assistance benefits you must be very low-income to qualify for, such as SSI, TAFDC and EAEDC. (These cash assistance benefits do not include special non-recurring payments (like the pandemic Economic Impact Payments), or other cash programs that are not needs-based, such as Unemployment benefits.)

What rules were ended?

Under the Trump administration, this public charge “test” was expanded to consider a broader set of public benefits which would have affected more people. Even with the expanded rule, most immigrants eligible for federal benefits do not have to go through a Public Charge test.* On March 9, 2021, the Trump-era Public Charge Rule was permanently ended (invalidated). As a result, the long-standing policy that was in place before the Trump-era public charge rule is back in effect.**

*You can see an announcement from the Department of Homeland Security here, and more in depth information from USCIS here.

**The policy in place is the narrower 1999 interim field guidance on the public charge inadmissibility provision. You can read this guidance here.

Does the public charge rule apply to me?

The Public Charge rule does not apply to:

  • US Citizens
  • “Green Card” holders applying for U.S. citizenship or renewing their Green Card, unless they leave the country for more than 6 months (180 days) 
  • Refugees
  • Asylees
  • Survivors of trafficking, domestic violence or other serious crimes (T or U visa applicants/holders)
  • Special immigrant juveniles
  • Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioners
  • And more.

What public benefits are safe to get?

It is SAFE to get benefits like MassHealth, public housing, and SNAP! These programs do not count as part of the Public Charge test. It is also safe to get Unemployment benefits, WIC benefits, Pandemic EBT and Health Connector subsidies (Advance Premium Tax Credits/ConnectorCare) - these benefits were never part of the Public Charge test. Many other types of benefits are also safe to get. 

The only benefits that matter are two types of public benefits:

  1. programs that pay for long-term care in a medical institution such as a nursing home, and
  2. Needs-based cash assistance benefits you must be very low-income to qualify for, such as SSI, TAFDC and EAEDC. (These cash assistance benefits do not include special non-recurring payments (like the pandemic Economic Impact Payments), or other cash programs that are not needs-based, such as Unemployment benefits.)

If you have questions we recommend talking to your  immigration attorney or, if you do not have one, click here. Information is available in multiple languages.

I need health insurance - what should I know?

It is SAFE to get the health care you need!

Many immigrants are eligible for comprehensive coverage from MassHealth or the Massachusetts Health Connector. There are also more limited health benefits available to undocumented immigrants. It is safe to apply for any health benefits for which you are eligible.

Information about applying for health care

Information about COVID-19

Everyone is eligible for free COVID-19 testing and treatment and vaccines regardless of income, immigration status or not having insurance coverage.

  • COVID-19 testing and treatment 
    • find COVID-19 testing sites near you here
    • If you have Medicare or private insurance there may be cost-sharing associated with treatment
  • COVID-19 vaccines
    • learn about when you’re eligible to get a vaccine and how to schedule an appointment here
    • For people with MassHealth, CMSP or Health Safety Net coverage, there is help with transportation to the location where you scheduled a vaccine appointment

All individuals, regardless of immigration status, are strongly encouraged to receive COVID-19 testing, treatment, and the vaccine once eligible under local distribution guidelines.

I need help buying food - what should I know?

It is SAFE to get food benefits that you and your children are eligible for! Getting food benefits will not hurt your immigration status, and it does not hurt the immigration status of anyone who lives with you.

Food help from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA)

DTA does not report anyone to immigration officials.*

  • To apply for SNAP (monthly food dollars), visit DTAConnect.com or call 1-877-382-2363. Learn more at Mass.gov/SNAP
    • Most immigrants with green cards - and many immigrants with work authorization - are eligible for SNAP.
    • Everyone has a right to file a SNAP application and have DTA review their application.
    • Even if you are not eligible, you may be eligible for SNAP for your US citizen children or other household members. You can file the SNAP application for them. You do not have to put information about your immigration status or provide an SSN if you are applying for other people. But, any income you have may still count.
    • You don’t have to give DTA an SSN or the immigrant status information for an immigrant family member not applying for SNAP. But, any income they have may still count.
    • To learn more about Pandemic EBT (food dollars for families with children), visit MAP-EBT.org.

Food help from the Department of Public Health - WIC

WIC is a nutrition program that provides healthy foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and referrals to healthcare and other services, free of charge, to Massachusetts families who qualify. WIC is available regardless of immigration or citizenship status. To learn more about WIC and to apply, visit Mass.gov/WIC

*The only situation where DTA would report status information is where an immigrant is under an “order of final deportation,” affirmatively applies for SNAP for themselves and shows DTA the final order of deportation as proof. This rarely, if ever, happens.

I have no income and need cash assistance. If I apply for SSI, EAEDC, or TAFDC cash benefits, does Public Charge apply to me?

Most immigrants who meet the eligibility rules for cash benefits like SSI, EAEDC (for elderly or disabled persons), or TAFDC (for some pregnant women or families with children) are exempt from Public Charge (will not face a Public Charge test). The Public Charge rule does not apply to:

  • US Citizens
  • “Green Card” holders applying for U.S. citizenship or renewing their Green Card, unless they leave the country for more than 6 months (180 days)
  • Refugees
  • Asylees
  • Survivors of trafficking, domestic violence or other serious crimes (T or U visa applicants/holders)
  • Special immigrant juveniles
  • Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioners
  • And more.

If your status is not on this list, it may still be safe to get cash assistance benefits you are eligible for. An immigration attorney can help you determine if public charge applies. For example, even if you used SSI, EAEDC, or TAFDC in the past, you can still show that you will not need it in the future (for example, because you have a job now). The Department of Homeland Security is supposed to look at your whole situation when it decides if you are likely to become a public charge in the future. If you get SSI, EAEDC, or TAFDC and want to apply for a green card, talk to an immigration attorney. Find immigration services in your community here. Information is available in multiple languages.

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