Final Public Charge Rule Adds Critical Protections for Immigrant Families

  ·  Health Policy Hub   ·   Katherine VilledaColin Reusch

Photo Credit:

Late last week following guidance from the Biden administration, the Department of Homeland Security released the final Public Charge Rule, taking an important step forward to undo the harm caused by the previous administration's rule which significantly threatened access to critical services for immigrants and their families. This final rule adds critical protections and affirms that immigrants and their families can safely access health, housing and nutritional programs to which they are entitled to without fear of consequences to their immigration status.     

Here is what advocates need to know:  

  • The final rule goes into effect Dec. 23, 2022. Between now and then, the field guidance from the 1999 rule will continue to be followed.  

  • Immigrants and their families, including citizen children, can safely access non-cash health, nutritional and housing programs they qualify for, such as Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and Section 8 housing assistance. Benefits received from these programs will not count towards the public charge test. 

  • Applying for benefits, being approved for benefits, assisting someone else to apply for benefits, or being in the same household as someone who receives benefits will not be counted towards the applicant’s immigration application.  

  • The only programs that can be considered in a public charge determination are Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance, state and locally funded cash assistance for income maintenance, and long-term institutional care paid for by Medicaid (this excludes short term or rehabilitative care and home and community-based services). However, getting these benefits does not automatically make someone a public charge. Other factors such as when benefits were received, length of receipt of benefits, education, skills, income and affidavit of support will be taken into account before making a public charge determination. If a public charge determination is made, immigration officers must now state their reasons as to why someone is a public charge.  

A further analysis of the final rule can be found here.   

This final rule comes at an important time as we prepare for open enrollment and the anticipated unwinding of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. This final rule is essential in addressing the lasting chilling effect from the Trump administration’s 2019 proposed rule which especially impacted immigrant families with citizen children from enrolling or actively disenrolling from programs they qualified for because of fear and uncertainty. As a result, immigrant families have foregone benefits despites hardships throughout the pandemic. 

Communication is critical. State officials, enrollment assistance personnel and advocates should be equipped to address fears immigrants and their families may have regarding the public charge rule and communicate that enrolling into Medicaid, CHIP or submitting information to ensure ongoing renewal in coverage like Medicaid will not affect their immigration status. Our partners at Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF) created a toolkit to accurately and effectively communicate with directly impacted people and can be found here

This is an important victory, and our work continues. We continue to advocate alongside our partners for the removal of the racist and classist public charge provision from immigration law, as well as other barriers, to improve access to health care, economic well-being and other social services for immigrants and their families.