Policy Update

Friedman Policy Corner: New Proposed Public Charge Legislation

Tiffany Liu gives an update on the recently leaked draft proposed rule regarding public charge. The new proposed policy has chilling implications for immigrants, leading many to discontinue their food assistance benefits.

A federal ‘public charge’ policy has been in effect since 1999; however, talks of new changes to the existing policy recently fired up. In summary, ‘public charge’ is a label that the government can place upon any immigrant seeking admission to the United States or applying for lawful permanent residency (i.e. green card) who is deemed likely to be dependent on public assistance in the future. Discussions of a revised ‘public charge’ policy ultimately began when a few executive order drafts created by the Trump administration regarding immigration were leaked to the press in early 2017. Fast forward to March 2018, a proposed rule regarding public charge was drafted by the Department of Homeland Security (i.e. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) and sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to be reviewed.

If approved by OMB, the proposed rule would become a published rule in the Federal Register. Ultimately, this proposed ‘public charge” legislation is the Trump administration’s most recent effort to crack down on immigration – especially legal immigration.

Under current law, an immigration official can deem an immigrant as a ‘public charge’ based on his/her use of only a few selected forms of public benefits that include cash assistance programs (e.g. TANF, SSI) and government funded long-term care services (medical and daily personal care for the chronically ill and disabled). However, the new proposed legislation has added in several additional government programs that can determine a public charge designation, including Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP and WIC.

Another key revision to the new public charge policy is that use of government benefits by family members will now be considered in an individual’s public charge determination. Many of these family members are dependent children and usually U.S. citizens who are fully entitled to apply to receive government assistance. Put more simply, a public charge determination would now involve an entire family’s status, rather than just the individual.

The proposed rule has been met with large public opposition. Talks of the new revised policy in the media have generated fear and confusion among immigrant families, with many canceling their benefits to ensure their families’ stay in the United States. Ultimately, this rule will be hurting children. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, about 1 in 4 children in the US have an immigrant parent (19.8 million children). Parents cancelling their children’s’ health insurance and nutrition assistance benefits is a risk to a child’s growth, learning development, and future health.

Many working immigrant households participate in the SNAP and WIC program as further support to keep food on the table. A recent 2017 National Academies of Sciences study found that 45.3% of U.S. immigrant households with children participate in government food assistance programs (specifically WIC, SNAP, and free/reduced price meals). According to a National Center for Children in Poverty report using 2009 American Community Survey data, 44.4% of mixed-immigrant families were household income eligible for SNAP, and 17% of all child SNAP participants were U.S. citizens living with a non-citizen adult.

Unlike SNAP, citizenship status is not an eligibility requirement for the WIC program. According to preliminary FY2018 USDA-FNS data, WIC currently services around 6.8 million participants. Many non-citizen women and their children residing in the U.S. are able to enroll in the program. However, state and nationwide WIC enrollment has sharply dropped over the years and even just within FY2018.

According to 2016 American Community Survey data, more than 43.7 million immigrants live in the U.S. Because many recent policy changes are disincentivizing immigrants’ participation in health-beneficial public assistance, much of the country’s health is put at risk. People disenrolling in SNAP or WIC due to the new public charge policy could lead to higher instances of food insecurity, negative health outcomes, financial instability and child poverty.

Although use of public assistance is the key factor of consideration in a public charge determination, immigration officials also consider other factors such as age, health, family status, assets, education, and financial status when making a final public charge determination on a visa or green card application. Additionally, public charge policy does not affect current green card holders who want to apply for US citizenship.

As of now, the draft proposed rule is still in the hands of OMB. It has yet to be published in the Federal Register, and the public comment period will happen before any talks of a final rule. Various immigration, children, and food advocacy groups are already banding together to provide statements and preparing for the public comment period.

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and National Immigration Law Center (NILC) are the leading experts on the new public charge proposed policy and have started the Protecting Immigrant Families, Advancing Our Future campaign.

For ‘public charge’ updates and information, visit https://protectingimmigrantfamilies.org/.


Tiffany Liu is a second-year FPAN MS candidate. She is particularly interested in federal nutrition assistance policy and programming. She interned in Dallas this summer with CHILDREN AT RISK, a Texas research and advocacy organization focused on improving education, parenting, human trafficking, and health/nutrition state policies.

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The Friedman Sprout is a monthly student run newspaper that aims to serve the student population at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, prospective students, and alumni. Our mission is to report on newsworthy information that affects the Friedman community including nutrition research, food policy, internship and volunteer opportunities, as well as school events. Our editorial slant is that of sustainability in food and nutrition.

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