Following a Supreme Court decision on January 27, 2020, the federal government will be changing how your application for a green card or entry into the United States may cause you to become a public charge. The federal government will begin applying the rule on February 24, 2020. The recent changes allow more types of Federally-funded public benefits to be considered when making public charge determinations
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.
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 more information in 13 languages about what benefits may or may not be taken into account in a public charge determination, you may also want to consult the fact sheets available at PIF Fact Sheet: Know Your Rights and Health Care For All (includes immigration resources in the community).
The “public charge” test considers ONLY the following benefits:
- Certain MassHealth coverage (with major exceptions - see https://www.mass.gov/info-details/information-about-the-public-charge-rule-and-how-it-may-impact-you)
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (see important notice for SNAP recipients at https://www.mass.gov/info-details/information-about-the-public-charge-rule-and-how-it-may-impact-you)
- Rental assistance under Section 8 housing vouchers, and federal public housing
- Cash assistance (for example, TAFDC, EAEDC or SSI)
State housing assistance programs will not be considered when making public charge determinations. These include:
- MRVP (Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program)
- AHVP (Alternative Housing Voucher Program)
- State-aided public housing
- Emergency Assistance family shelter program
- RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition)
Certain other Federal housing or housing-related programs not listed in the rule also will not be considered when making public charge determinations. These include:
- Section 202 elderly housing
- Section 811 supporting housing for persons with disabilities
- Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA)
- McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance
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.
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
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.
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