public-policy article

Proposed Public Charge Regulation Would Compromise the Well-Being of Immigrants

September 26, 2018

By Marie Camino

On Saturday night, the Department of Homeland Security released a draft regulation that would change the threshold for becoming what the government defines as a “public charge” – a person who is “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.” Currently, a non-citizen determined likely to use cash assistance or government-funded long-term institutional care above a designated amount is ineligible for change of status or extension of stay in the United States. Traditionally, Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)  has rarely turned people away on public charge grounds because one, most immigrants are already barred from using many forms of public assistance, and, two, most green card applications require a financial sponsor with an income of at least 125% of the poverty line. The proposed regulation adopts a new bright-line threshold for households that hope to overcome a public charge designation. The proposed rule would require that the immigrant household (not just the sponsor) earn at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Level and would weigh as “heavily positive” a household income of at least 250% of the Federal Poverty Level. This means, to avoid scrutiny under the public charge designation, a family of four would need to earn nearly $63,000 annually.

The proposed policy would expand the list of benefits considered in a public charge determination, so that immigrant visa, or visa adjustment applicants deemed likely to use certain healthcare, nutrition, and housing programs could become inadmissible. Some added programs include:

  • Non-emergency Medicaid (with limited exceptions for Medicaid benefits for treating an “emergency medical condition,” certain disability services related to education, among others)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy
  • Housing assistance, such as public housing or Section 8 housing vouchers and rental assistance.
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

Notably, this list does not include the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), however DHS specifically requests public comments about whether CHIP should be included as a public benefit. Programs like these support family well-being and promote shared prosperity.

Impact on the Disabled Community

The regulation would have devastating effects for immigrants with disabilities and their families. The rule specifically states that “any medical condition” of an applicant needing subsidized health insurance would count as a negative in their public charge determination. This would force those with disabilities to either risk failing their public charge test, or to refrain from reporting their condition and forgo health insurance or medical care. Additionally, the rule would negatively consider applicants with limited English proficiency, as well as applicants with physical or mental health conditions that could affect their ability to work, attend school or care for themselves.

What Happens Next?

Once the proposed rule is officially published in the Federal Register, the public will be able to submit comments for 60 days. After DHS carefully considers public comments received on the proposed rule, DHS plans to issue a final public charge rule that will include an effective date at least 60 days after the date the final rule is published.

The National Assembly will provide updates when the rule is published, as well as resources for members to submit their own public comments.