The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

Immigrants and Public Benefits - Public Charge Information

Date: 
09/25/2020
Author: 
MLRI

UPDATED 9/22/2020

 

Immigrants applying for a green card or applying for admission to the U.S. may be asked by federal immigration officials whether they applied for or used certain public benefits. The purpose of these questions is to help determine if the immigrants are likely to become a “public charge” (not able to support themselves). However, the “public charge” test is about more than just past use of public benefits. The public charge test also considers the immigrant’s age, education, health, income, and other factors.

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). A person with a “non-immigrant” visa like a student or specialty worker can also be denied an extension or change in visa status based on past use of certain public benefits.

The “public charge” test in Massachusetts 

The public charge test is currently in effect in Massachusetts. A public charge rule issued by the Trump Administration in October 2019 was temporarily blocked by several federal court decisions, but higher courts allowed the rule to take effect on February 24th, 2020. However, lawsuits challenging the new rule are ongoing. Visit our litigation tracker to learn more about the many lawsuits still underway all across the country.

Given the ever changing nature of the litigation, it is more important than ever to remind the community that:

  • Most immigrants are not subject to the “public charge” test
  • Only a limited set of benefits are considered in the “public charge” test - and many immigrants eligible for benefits are not subject to the test 
  • Benefits for an eligible family member (such as your U.S. citizen child) are not counted against the immigrant in the “public charge” test

IMPORTANT STATE  INFORMATION:  The MA Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) updated its public charge webpage on September 17, 2020. This webpage provides more complete information about benefits for immigrant households and public charge. This state guidance is for state agency workers, community organizations and clients. Please refer to this webpage and share it widely.

Are all immigrants subject to the “public charge” test?

No, most immigrants are NOT subject to the “public charge” test. The following people are examples of immigrants NOT subject to the “public charge” test:

  • Naturalized U.S. citizens, as well as citizenship applicants
  • Green card holders (unless they leave the country for more than 180 days) 
  • Refugees
  • Asylees
  • Survivors of trafficking, domestic violence or other serious crimes (T or U visa applicants/holders)
  • Special immigrant juveniles
  • Certain people paroled into the U.S.
  • Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioners

What public benefits are considered in the “public charge” test?

Many benefits are NOT considered in the “public charge” test. The public charge rule considers only the following benefits that were received by the green card applicant:

  • cash assistance (such as TAFDC, EAEDC or Supplemental Security Income, SSI),
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), 
  • Federal rental assistance under Section 8 housing vouchers, and federal public housing, and 
  • certain types of federally-funded MassHealth coverage (see below)

Non-cash benefits received before February 24, 2020 do NOT count. Public benefits received while on active duty in the U.S. military or as the spouse or dependent of someone on active duty also do not count. 

Any public benefits not included in this short list are not considered under the public charge test.

What are examples of benefits that are NOT considered under the public charge test? 

All of these health care benefits are NOT considered in the public charge test:
  • Emergency Medicaid (MassHealth Limited) or Health Safety Net
  • COVID-19 testing and treatment 
  • MassHealth coverage for pregnant women or children under age 21
  • Coverage through the Massachusetts Health Connector, including Advance Premium Tax Credits (APTCs), ConnectorCare and unsubsidized health insurance 
  • MassHealth coverage that is not federally-funded by Medicaid

Examples of other benefits that are NOT considered under the public charge rules:

  • Any type of unemployment benefits
  • WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Nutrition Program
  • School meals and  Pandemic EBT benefits to replace school meals during COVID-19
  • Any help from a private source, such as a church or local nonprofit
  • Emergency food at food pantries or community meals programs
  • Housing aid through the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program
  • Emergency Assistance shelter 

Are benefits received by or for other family members or dependents considered in a “public charge” test for you?

NO. Benefits received by or for your family members or dependents - including your U.S. citizen children - are NOT considered in a "public charge" test for you . This is because the “public charge” test only looks at benefits that the immigrant applying for the green card has applied for or received, or might be eligible for in the future for him or herself.

Important for SNAP recipients: SNAP EBT cards are issued in the name of the head of household, even if the benefits are only for a child. SNAP benefits that you get on behalf of your children  are NOT considered in the “public charge” test of the parent, even if the card has the parent’s name on it. 

Does the “public charge” test affect immigrants’ eligibility for any public benefits?

NO. Eligibility rules for public benefits programs in Massachusetts have not changed due to the “public charge” rule.  

Most immigrants subject to the “public charge” test do NOT qualify for the federal public benefits that are counted under the “public charge” test.

More information Where do I learn more about the “public charge” test?

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 or MIRAcoalition.org/pif 

Where do I get help or get my questions answered?

For information about what kind of benefits you received and whether the benefits were just for your family members and not for you, contact the agency in charge of the benefit:

  • MassHealth 1-800-841-2900, Health Connector 1-877-623-6765
  • Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA): 1-877-382-2363, or use the DTA Connect mobile app or DTAConnect.com 

For questions about health coverage as it relates to public charge, contact Health Care For All's HelpLine at 1-800-272-4232.

Immigrants who want to apply for a green card and have questions about public charge should consult an immigration expert. For a list of nonprofit immigration service providers by region, consult Health Care For All’s resource or go to Masslegalservices.org/findlegalaid. Also, see the referral list below for immigration legal service organizations or the clinics list to find an immigration clinic that can speak with you about your immigration status and public charge.

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