The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

Immigrants and Public Benefits - Public Charge Information


On January 27, 2020 the Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to set aside the preliminary injunction from New York that prevented the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) public charge rule from taking effect nationwide. This was the last of the three district court nationwide injunctions standing, which means that the DHS rule can go into effect nationwide while litigation continues, except in Illinois where it is still blocked by a statewide injunction. USCIS announced that the agency will only apply the Final Rule to applications and petitions submitted on or after February 24, 2020 (except for in the State of Illinois). DHS will NOT consider an immigrant’s receipt of the newly listed benefits before Februrary 24, 2020 in the public charge determination

Once fully implemented, this rule would make it much harder for low- and moderate- income immigrants to obtain lawful permanent resident status (become a “green card holder”). Although the rule is often characterized as one meant to target immigrants who are considered likely to become overly dependent on government benefit programs, the regulation itself only directly affects benefits use by a small number of people. The Trump administration characterizes the rule in this manner in order to invoke fear in the community about the use of benefits and amplify the harm of the rule.

What is "public charge"?

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, legal challenges are being filed to stop the rule, including a lawsuit filed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and 12 other states. Visit our litigation tracker to learn more. 

Please note:

  • 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.

Where do I learn more?

Materials are being updated and will be added as they become available. 

Find extensive information about public charge from the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign here:ProtectingImmigrant

Contact your local legal services program about public charge and other immigration issues. To find who to contact in your area, go to:

The MA Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) has compiled a list of legal services and community groups who may be able to advise on questions about public charge. We recommend calling to determine if the organization is able to answer public charge questions. Click here for the list in English and in Spanish

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