The Trump administration’s new public charge rule is yet another assault on our immigrant neighbors, forcing people to choose between using basic services and jeopardizing their immigration status. The District of Columbia, together with scores of cities and states, continues to fight this rule that throws up arbitrary roadblocks to lawful immigration and will endanger tens of thousands of District residents and millions of immigrants nationwide. We will not stand by as this administration takes yet another step to close the gates to our nation of immigrants.
The District of Columbia is home to over 100,000 immigrants. We know that many District residents have questions and concerns about the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) new Public Charge Rule. This Trump administration rule affects people applying for new visas, visa renewals, or lawful permanent resident status (green cards) on or after February 24, 2020.
This page contains general information about the public charge rule and how D.C. residents can get further information and assistance. The information below is for general educational purposes and is not legal advice.
It is important to know:
- The new public charge rule went into effect as of February 24, 2020.
- Many immigrants will not be affected by the new public charge rule. For example, asylees, refugees, U visa holders and T visa holders, and green card holders who apply for citizenship will not face a “public charge” test.
- The new public charge rule does not change who is eligible to receive public benefits. Many benefit programs in the District of Columbia are open to all, regardless of immigration status. This new rule does not change that.
- Immigrants can continue to use many public benefits without fear that their status will be impacted. Many benefit programs are not taken into consideration in the public charge analysis. Immigrants can continue to take advantage of these important programs without any negative impact on their status; more information is below.
- The Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia is challenging the public charge rule in court. The District of Columbia joined with other states and filed a lawsuit to stop the rule. However, a final decision from the court could take months or even years.
On March 13, 2020, the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) posted a COVID-19 Alert that states it will not consider testing, treatment, or preventative care related to the COVID-19 coronavirus as a negative factor in the public charge determination. This means that you and your family members can receive treatment for COVID-19 paid for by public benefits, including Medicaid, and such treatment will not be counted as a negative factor in the public charge determination.
If you are applying for a green card or adjustment of status and have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 you may provide an explanation and supporting documentation to DHS. For example, if you are prevented from working or attending school, or must rely on public benefits as a result of a quarantine or social distancing, you may provide an explanation and supporting documentation to DHS and DHS will consider such evidence in their public charge determination.
OAG continues to challenge the Public Charge Rule and the insufficiency of the USCIS COVID-19 Alert during this public health emergency. The USCIS COVID-19 Alert fails to recognize that in order to receive adequate health services, immigrants need adequate health insurance benefits. To achieve DHS’s stated goal of encouraging immigrants to seek testing and treatment for COVID-19, immigrants must be encouraged to enroll or remain enrolled in health insurance programs, including Medicaid, and they must be assured that such enrollment during the COVID-19 public health emergency will not be considered in any future public charge determination. OAG continues to challenge the Public Charge Rule and recently joined a multi-state letter urging DHS to at least make clear that enrollment in Medicaid and the use of Medicaid benefits for any reason will not be considered in the public charge determination.
PUBLIC CHARGE RULE FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQS)
What is a “public charge”?
A “public charge” means a person who primarily depends on government assistance to survive. If federal immigration authorities determine that an individual is likely to become a “public charge” in the future, they can deny that individual’s application for a visa or legal permanent residence status.
This concept has been part of U.S. law for over 100 years. However, the Trump administration’s new rule makes it easier for the government to determine that someone is a “public charge” and then use that decision to deny an application for a visa or a green card.
[See “Which public benefits will be considered when the government makes a public charge determination?” and “Which public benefits will not be considered as part of the public charge determination?” for additional information]
Who is affected by the public charge rule?
Individuals who may be subject to the public charge test are those seeking:
- Immigrant or nonimmigrant visas from abroad;
- Admission to the United States on immigrant or nonimmigrant visas; and
- Individuals adjusting their status to that of a lawful permanent resident (LPR) from within the United States.
Most current lawful permanent residents (green card holders) are not affected by the public charge rule.
Who is not affected by the new Public Charge Rule?
The new Public Charge Rule does not impact everyone who wants to immigrate to the United States. The following individuals are not subject to public charge determinations:
- Refugees, asylees, and individuals under Temporary Protective Status (TPS).
- Survivors of trafficking, domestic violence, or other serious crimes (certain T and U nonimmigrant visa applicants and individuals applying under the Violence Against Women Act).
- Certain immigrants and public officials protected under law listed in the rule.
- Certain international adoptees and children acquiring U.S. citizenship.
- Specific Afghan and Iraqi Interpreter, or Afghan or Iraqi national employed by or on behalf of the U.S. Government.
- Certain Cuban and Haitian entrants applying for adjustment of status.
- Certain Nicaraguans and other Central Americans applying for adjustment of status.
- Certain nationals of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos applying for adjustment of status.
- Non-immigrants seeking to attain or retain visas associated with International Organizations, Diplomatic Missions (embassies), or NATO.
- Anyone else who successfully applies for and receives a waiver from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (e.g., armed service members).
Which public benefits will be considered when the government makes a public charge determination?
The new Public Charge Rule defines public benefits that can be counted against immigrants to include only the following federal, state, or local cash benefits for income maintenance, and federal health, nutrition, and housing programs:
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Housing programs:
- Subsidized public housing
- Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program
- Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance
- Medicaid for non-pregnant adults over 21 years of age [Does not include the following: Medicaid for pregnant women; Medicaid benefits for individuals under 21 years of age; Medicaid for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and preventative care; Medicaid for emergency medical services (Emergency Medicaid); Medicaid for school-based services, including those provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)]
- Any federal, state, local, or tribal cash benefits for income maintenance, including the following:
- Program on Work Employment and Responsibility (POWER)
- Interim Disability Assistance (IDA), and
- General Assistance for Children (GC)
Which public benefits will not be considered as part of the public charge determination?
Under the final rule, the following programs will not be considered public benefits that are counted against immigrants in the public charge determination:
- Certain Medicaid benefits:
- Medicaid for pregnant women
- Medicaid benefits for individuals under 21 years of age
- Medicaid for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and preventative care (including vaccines, if a vaccine becomes available)
- Medicaid for emergency medical services (Emergency Medicaid)
- Medicaid for school-based services, including those provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) benefits
- Locally-funded health coverage:
- DC Healthcare Alliance Program
- DC Immigrant Children’s Program
- Private health insurance, including:
- Plans purchased through DC Health Link
- Tax credits/subsidies received for such coverage
- Certain Nutrition benefits:
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
- Free and Reduced School Meals (School Lunch Program)
- Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
- Head Start
- Healthy Start
- Pell Grants
- Social Security Disability Insurance
- Non-governmental non-cash services or aid, such as homeless shelters and food pantries
I have family in my household who use public benefits. Will this count against me on my own immigration application?
No, having family members who use public benefits will not count against you on your own immigration application. The public charge test is an individual test. It looks at the benefits received by each individual who applies for a visa or to change their immigration status. It does not consider benefits received by that person’s children or other family members. DHS will only consider public benefits received directly by the applicant for the applicant’s own benefit, or where the applicant is a listed beneficiary of the public benefit.
Does when I receive public benefits matter in public charge determinations?
- Yes, the rule only applies to certain types of public benefits that immigrants receive on or after February 24, 2020.
- The rule DOES NOT apply to any public benefits received before February 24, 2020 (unless they are benefits that were already considered in prior public charge determinations such as TANF, state and local cash assistance for income maintenance, or SSI).
Does the amount of public benefits or the length of time I received public benefits matter in public charge determinations?
Yes. The new public charge rule considers it a heavily weighted negative factor if an applicant receives public benefits for more than 12 months total in any 36-month period. The rule counts each benefit an individual receives in each month separately. This means that the receipt of two separate benefits in one month would count as two months of benefits. For example, if an individual receives both Medicaid and SNAP in one month, the individual’s use of benefits will count as two months for the purposes of determining whether the individual is a public charge.
In determining this calculation, DHS will only consider public benefits received on or after February 24, 2020 (unless they are benefits that were already considered in prior public charge determinations such as TANF, state and local cash assistance for income maintenance, or SSI).
I'm a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) and have a green card. Will benefits I receive affect my application for citizenship?
No. The public charge test generally does not apply to individuals who are already LPRs, and nothing in the final rule changes this.
However, there are some exceptions where the public charge test could apply to LPRs. These are related to criminal activity, extended periods of time spent outside of the United States (longer than 180 days), or abandonment of LPR status.
Does the new public charge rule change eligibility requirements for public benefits?
No. Eligibility requirements for public benefits and programs will not change as a result of the new public charge rule. Benefit programs in the District of Columbia seek to help as many people in need as possible, and many benefits programs are open to all, regardless of immigration status.
Notably, every resident in the District may use the following programs, without regard to immigration status:
- The District of Columbia Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC);
- DC Health clinics for sexually transmitted diseases and immunization clinics;
- DC Health HIV/AIDS Housing and Supportive Services and AIDS Drug Assistance Program;
- Public schools and programs offered through schools, such as breakfast and lunch; after school (Out-of-School Time) programs; and Summer Food Service;
- Health insurance through the DC Healthcare Alliance or Immigrant Children’s Program;
- The Department of Behavioral Health’s Access HelpLine, available at 1(888)7WEHELP/1-888-793-4357;
- DC DMV Limited Purpose Driver License; and
- Language Access Services.
Where can I find more information and legal help?
If you have additional questions about the public charge rule or your specific situation, you should seek the advice of an immigration attorney.
You can reach out to the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs Immigrant Justice Legal Services (IJLS) Grantees. Their contact information can be found at https://dc.gov/immigration-resources.
The following organizations also assist immigrants in need of legal help and other services in the Washington, D.C. area. This list is non-exhaustive and is provided for guidance purposes only.
Washington, DC and Maryland Office
6925B Willow Street NW, Washington, DC 20012
Phone: (202) 387-4848
2701 Prosperity Ave, Suite 300, Fairfax, VA 22031
Phone: (703) 444-7009
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of DC – Immigration Legal Services
Washington, DC Offices
924 G Street NW, Washington, DC 20001
Phone: (202) 772-4352
1618 Monroe Street NW, Washington, DC 20010
Phone: (202) 939-2420
12247 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20902
Phone: (301) 942-1790
201 E. Diamond Ave., 3rd Floor, Gaithersburg, MD 20877
Phone: (301) 740-2523
5859 Allentown Way, Temple Hills, MD 20748
Phone: (202) 772-4352 to schedule an appointment.
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington – Hogar Immigrant Services
6301 Little River Turnpike, Suite 300, Alexandria, VA 22312
Phone: (703) 534-9805
Legal Aid Justice Center
6066 Leesburg Pike, Suite 250, Falls Church, VA 22041
Phone: (703) 778-3450
Northern Virginia Family Services
6400 Arlington Blvd., Suite 110, Falls Church, VA 22042
Phone: (571) 748-2806