Immigrants, benefit programs, and the “public charge” rule
A new rule that went into effect on February 24, 2020, allows federal immigration officers to consider applications for and/or receipt of non-cash public benefits in determining whether a person applying for a green card or visa or adjustment of status is likely to become a “public charge.” Being a “public charge” can be grounds for denying the application for change in your immigration status.
If you are an immigrant or work with immigrants, it is important to know three key things:
- Many immigrants are not subject to the “public charge” 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.
- Only a limited set of benefits are considered in the “public charge” test.
IMPORTANT for SNAP recipients: SNAP cards are issued in the name of the head of household, even if the immigrant is not eligible and the benefits are for a child or other eligible household member. SNAP benefits received on behalf of others are NOT considered in the “public charge” test, even if the card has the immigrant’s name on it.
Examples of immigrants NOT subject to the “public charge” test include:
- Naturalized U.S. citizens, as well as citizenship applicants
- Green card holders (unless they leave the country for more than 180 days)
- 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
The “public charge” test is complicated and considers more than just benefits, including the immigrant’s income, age, English proficiency, education, health and other factors. Immigrants who are not sure whether they might be affected are encouraged to speak with an immigration lawyer. For detailed information about the public charge rule in 13 languages and a list of immigration resources in the community, visit Health Care For All.
The “public charge” test considers ONLY the following benefits:
- Certain MassHealth coverage (with major exceptions; see below)
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Rental assistance under Section 8 housing vouchers, and federal public housing
- Cash assistance (for example, TAFDC, EAEDC or SSI)
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.
The new rule does not affect immigrants’ eligibility for any public benefits.
Many health benefits are NOT considered in the “public charge” test, including:
- Emergency Medicaid (MassHealth Limited) or Health Safety Net
- COVID-19 testing and treatment (covered by Health Safety Net or MassHealth)
- 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
Immigrants can also safely obtain many forms of assistance that are NOT CONSIDERED in the “public charge” test, including:
- Unemployment benefits
- WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Nutrition Program
- School meals, as well as Pandemic EBT benefits to replace school meals
- 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
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.
To find a legal services organization, visit masslegalservices.org/findlegalaid.
For more information about public charge generally, visit miracoalition.org/pif.
|Date published:||January 30, 2020|
|Last updated:||September 17, 2020|