Proposed changes to federal rules for "Public Charge", an immigration policy that hurts people with disabilities

What is “Public Charge?”

“Public charge” refers to an immigrant who is considered likely to be dependent on public benefits from the United States government.

On October 10, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed changes to federal public charge regulations. Those changes threaten access to health and other important benefits for immigrants. The proposed changes add specific standards for income, health, age, and even English proficiency, and expand the types of public assistance that are counted in a public charge determination. As drafted these proposed changes may vastly increase the number of people who could be deported or refused entry.

How the public charge policy is applied today

The current definition of “public charge” is a person who has become or is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. The only benefits currently considered in the public charge test are:

  • Cash assistance such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and comparable state or local programs.
  • Government-funded long-term institutional care (for example, nursing home care paid for by Medi-Cal).

How the public charge rules could change

Photo of a sad latino woman's face. Overlay text - It will make immigrants and their families afraid to seek the healthcare and services they need to live and thrive.

The new public charge regulations would affect many more public benefits programs and would particularly harm immigrants with disabilities, including children and seniors. If the proposed regulations are adopted, the public charge test could be applied to:

  • Nonemergency Medicaid, including in California, In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) and Medi-Cal funded Regional Center Services;
  • Public Housing, Section 8 housing vouchers, and Project-Based Section 8;
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); and
  • Low-income subsidy (LIS) for prescription drug costs under Medicare Part D.

This means that people who may need any of these benefits may be turned away. It will also make immigrants and their families afraid to seek the healthcare and services they need to live and thrive.

Would anyone be protected if the public charge rules change?

Certain immigrants—such as refugees, people seeking asylum, survivors of domestic violence, and other protected groups—are not subject to “public charge” determinations and would not be affected by this proposed rule if they seek status or a green card.  Public charge is also not a consideration when lawful permanent residents (green card holders) apply to become U.S. citizens.

The rules are different for people who are not in the United States, and those rules will likely be revised if the proposed changes become final.

Certain benefits are not part of the proposed changes and include:

  • Emergency Medi-Cal;
  • Services or benefits funded by Medi-Cal but provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA);
  • Medi-Cal received by children who would automatically become a citizen under certain laws;
  • Medi-Cal or other benefits received by persons enlisted in the armed forces (active duty or in reserves) and their spouses/children.

What can I do to make my voice heard?

The public has until December 10, 2018 -- to submit comments.  You can make your voice heard by submitting comments through: