PROPOSED CHANGES TO PUBLIC CHARGE RULE RISK CHILLING EFFECT FOR IMMIGRANTS WHO USE PUBLIC BENEFITS

On October 10, 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a proposed revision to its longstanding public charge rule. Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the public charge rule determines whether individuals seeking legal permanent residence in the United States are inadmissible based on their current or prospective use of public benefits. While the public charge rule has previously penalized individuals who are primarily dependent upon cash assistance like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the DHS proposal proffers expanding the rule to consider any receipt of both cash and in-kind benefits like the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The estimated impacts of these changes are far-reaching and devastating, especially for vulnerable populations. Experts warn that the revisions will have a chilling effect, in which immigrants will be deterred from enrolling in or will preemptively dis-enroll from essential food, health, and medical benefits. Per DHS, immigrants stand to forgo up to $2.27 billion annually in state and federal public benefits if the proposed rule is enacted.

How does the proposed rule work?
If revised, the public charge rule will censure individuals who use or are eligible for public benefits in applications to enter the country or to access green cards. The proposal alters the public charge rule’s totality of circumstances test, the series of cumulative factors DHS considers when determining green card eligibility. Under the proposed rule, higher income applicants are viewed more favorably than lower income ones. Receipt of 15% of the federal poverty line in cash assistance for the past 12 months, receipt of in-kind benefits for 12 of the past 36 months, and receipt of both cash assistance and in-kind benefits for 9 of the past 36 months are “heavily weighted negative factors” in the DHS test. Earnings above 250% of the federal poverty line, which is greater than the national median income, is a “heavily weighed positive factor” in the DHS test.

Which benefits are included in the proposed rule?
The public charge rule currently includes dependence on cash assistance programs like TANF, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicaid long-term care services. The proposed rule broadens the definition to the mere use of both cash assistance and in-kind benefits. Immigrants who participate in SNAP, the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, Medicare Part D, and most Medicaid services are public charges under the new rule. State-level General Assistance programs are also included in the new rule. Refundable tax credits, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Pell Grants, Head Start, and emergency Medicaid are excluded. While the proposed rule is intended to promote self-sufficiency, it hinders immigrants’ access to critical work supports and reduces their eligibility for green cards, which often serve as a ticket to higher quality employment.

Which populations are affected by the proposed rule?
DHS estimates that over 382,000 immigrants will be impacted by the revised public charge rule each year. While the proposed rule excludes certain vulnerable populations, such as refugees, asylees, and survivors of domestic violence, it stands to disproportionately impact two particularly high-needs groups: children and persons with disabilities. In penalizing parents who are likely to use public benefits while seeking entry to the United States, the proposed rule hinders both family unification and immigrant children’s access to essential services. Persons with disabilities often rely on Medicaid to access care and on the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program to power life-sustaining devices. The proposed rule jeopardizes their health by subjecting them to public review due to their participation in these programs.

What can I do to help?
Advocates for immigrant children, families, and communities can make their voices heard on this issue. DHS will receive comments on the rule until Monday, December 10. To submit a statement, visit the Federal eRulemaking Portal. For more opportunities to get involved, visit protectingimmigrantfamilies.org or paimmigrant.org. To learn more, review the City of Philadelphia’s action guide.

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