The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

Immigrants and Public Benefits - Public Charge Information

Date: 
10/16/2019
Author: 
MLRI

Update Oct. 11, 2019: Trump Public Charge Rule Blocked by the Courts! 

On October 11, 2019 multiple federal courts blocked the Trump administration’s final public charge regulations from going into effect on October 15, 2019.

This means most non-citizens can continue using the nutrition, health and housing benefits for which they are eligible without fear of public charge.

Both the federal courts in New York and Washington have entered nation-wide injunctions that prevent the rule from taking effect anywhere in the US including Massachusetts.

The court decisions are posted on our litigation tracker here.

The longstanding public charge rule which only considers receipt of cash welfare for income maintenance or long term institutional care at government expense as evidence of public charge remains in effect.

If non-citizens will be applying for a visa from outside the U.S. or leaving the U.S. in order to obtain the visa abroad, U.S. consular offices abroad use different rules in making the public charge decision. Non-citizens should talk with an expert for advice if they are in this situation. For free or low-cost options near you please review this list of resources.

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 Families.org

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

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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