The Biden administration has finalized a rule eliminating potential hurdles for immigrants using some public benefits and trying to obtain legal status, according to a newly released regulation.
The Trump administration had modified the decades-old regulation, known as “public charge,” in a way that would have reshaped the legal immigrant population in the United States by making it more difficult for individuals to obtain status if they use public benefits like food stamps and housing vouchers.
The Biden administration, though, is changing course and unwinding the Trump-era policy by largely returning to longstanding practice.
“This action ensures fair and humane treatment of legal immigrants and their U.S. citizen family members,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a statement. “Consistent with America’s bedrock values, we will not penalize individuals for choosing to access the health benefits and other supplemental government services available to them.”
Under current regulations, the term “public charge” is defined as someone who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance, meaning it supplies more than half their income.
But it only counted cash benefits, such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security. The Trump administration widened the definition of who is expected to be dependent on the government by including more benefit programs. That change is no longer in effect.
Under the final rule, the Department of Homeland Security will consider benefits, like cash assistance for income maintenance under TANF and long-term institutionalization at government expense.
Immigration officials can consider an applicant’s financial resources, health, education, skills, family status and age. But few people are rejected on these relatively narrow grounds, experts said. Officials will not consider certain non-cash programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, or benefits related to housing and immunizations or testing for communicable diseases.
DHS argued in its proposed regulation, issued in February, that changes made in 2019 by the Trump administration had caused a chilling effect within immigrant communities, citing experts, and led to immigrants avoiding benefits like medical care over concerns that use of those benefits might keep them from obtaining legal status.
The final rule will go into effect on December 23.