The Biden administration finalized a new public charge rule on Thursday that would eliminate Trump-era policies that penalized low-income immigrants seeking health benefits and other services.
The new rule from the Department of Homeland Security will roll back the types of assistance immigration officers can consider when evaluating immigrants for a green card and deciding whether they’ll become a “public charge,” or dependent on government assistance.
Public charge determinations would be limited to government cash assistance and long-term institutionalization financed by the government, under the new rule. However, the new rule also notes that an applicant’s use of long-term institutional care or cash assistance will not automatically result in a determination that the applicant is likely to become a public charge.
Federal officials made it clear that DHS will not consider the use of health care, nutrition, or housing programs when making immigration decisions. Under the new rule, DHS also clarified that a child’s or other family member’s use of federal safety net programs will not affect the applicant’s immigration application.
“This action ensures fair and humane treatment of legal immigrants and their U.S. citizen family members,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas in a statement. “Consistent with America’s bedrock values, we will not penalize individuals for choosing to access the health benefits and other supplemental government services available to them.”
The new regulations will make it more difficult for future presidential administrations to enact dramatic changes to the rule, say immigration groups.
During the Trump administration, immigrants who used noncash public benefits — like housing vouchers, food assistance, or Medicaid— could be deemed a public charge and denied residence or citizenship status. The Trump rule also included provisions that made entering the U.S. or obtaining a green card harder for low-income immigrants who had not used any benefit programs at all but were expected to use noncash public benefits.
President Biden issued an executive order a few weeks after his inauguration, directing the DHS to stop enforcing the 2019 “public charge” restrictions.
Advocates called the Trump-era rule an immigrant wealth test that prevented low-income immigrants who have not yet obtained citizenship— like green card holders —from accessing government services available to them.
Noncash benefits that will not be considered under the new public charge rule include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program(SNAP), the Children’s Health Insurance Program, most Medicaid benefits, housing benefits, and transportation vouchers. Disaster assistance, pandemic assistance, tax credits or deductions, Social Security, government pensions, or other earned benefits, will also not be included under the rule.
The nonpartisan Urban Institute research group found that the Trump policy deterred immigrant families from seeking help with hunger, housing, or health care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Public health experts cited public charge as one of four Trump policies that increased COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on families of color.
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