Government Relations

Comment on the Trump Administration’s Proposed Public Charge Change

The federal government has proposed changes to what is known in immigration law as “public charge ground for inadmissibility.” If the changes are adopted, they could bar many more immigrants from permanent residency (also known as the green card) or a visa.. The current public charge , prevents immigrants from receiving a green card or visa if they are likely to need help from government programs such as public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care . The proposed revisions would greatly broaden the definition to include other programs, including certain health care and housing programs.

The federal government is accepting comments from the public on the proposal through Dec. 10, 2018. The City encourages the public to submit comments, believing that the proposed changes would degrade the public health of its citizens, permanent residents and other immigrants. Please read here for explanations from Houston Health Department Director Stephen Williams and Emergency Medical Services Director Dr. David Persse (.pdf). Please write your comments in the box below for transmission to the federal government. Include your thoughts on the proposal and how the change would affect you.

The City of Houston is not keeping comments that are submitted through this website. You can confirm that your comment was submitted by checking the comments received on 24 hours after your comment is submitted.

This site does not constitute legal advice. People with questions should consult an immigration attorney or DOJ-accredited representative about their individual case. You may contact the Houston Legal Services Immigration Collaborative for more information about this proposal or questions about your case. Call 1-833-Hou-Immi (468-4664) Callers can get assistance Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (except holidays).

Resources and More Information

What is a public charge and how does this affect my immigration status?
When a person seeks admission into the United States or to become a legal permanent resident of the United States, one negative factor the Department of Homeland Security uses under the Immigration and Nationality Act is whether the person is or is likely to become a “public charge,” or someone who is dependent on government services for sustenance. The exact definition is determined by rules promulgated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The proposal changes those rules to make that definition broader, which would likely have the effect of excluding more people from being admissible. The current definition limits it to being applied to people who receive cash benefits and those institutionalized for long-term care at government expense. The proposal changes the definition to mean anyone who receives any one of several public benefits.

When does this change take place?
It is not certain that the change will take place at all. At this point, it is only a proposal. The Federal Government is accepting comments from the public until December 10, and will consider them and may make changes or not implement any change.

What programs are included in the public charge rule change?
Currently, use of the following programs could mean that a person could be considered a “public charge”:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • TANF or other state/local cash assistance
  • Public assistance for long-term care in an institution (including Medicaid)

The proposal would add the following, in addition to the existing programs on the list:

  • SNAP
  • Section 8 Rental Assistance
  • Medicaid (except for emergency Medicaid, certain disability services related to education, and benefits received by foreign-born children of U.S. citizen parents who will be automatically eligible to become citizens)
  • Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy Program
  • Subsidized public housing

Additionally, the Federal Government requests public comment on whether to include CHIP.

For cash benefits and benefits that can be translated into a cash value, like SNAP, housing vouchers or rental assistance, use of the benefits will be considered negatively if the person seeking admission or adjustment in status used benefits that equaled 15 percent of federal poverty line in a year ($1,821 in 2018). For benefits that cannot be translated into cash value, like public housing or Medicaid, the standard for consideration would be whether the person received those benefits for 12 months within the prior 36-month period, or nine months if the person received both types of benefits.

The Federal Government will only consider benefits that are going to the individual seeking admission or the adjustment, and not benefits received by family members. Benefits received by an active duty or reserve service member and their family will not be considered.

Are there any other changes proposed?
The Federal Government’s proposal will also add “heavily weighted” factors that will both positively and negatively impact decisions on admissibility. The negative factors include:

  • Currently receiving or approved to receive one or more of the public benefits
  • Having received one or more of the public benefits within the prior 36 months
  • Having a medical condition that requires extensive treatment or institutionalization if the person is uninsured and does not have sufficient resources to pay for medical costs related to their condition
  • Being authorized to work but not able to demonstrate employment and not a full-time student
  • Having been previously found to be inadmissible or deportable on public charge grounds

Positive factors include:

  • Having financial assets or resources of at least 250 percent of the federal poverty line
  • Being authorized to work or employed with an income of at least 250 percent of the federal poverty line

Does this mean my eligibility for these programs changes?
No. The proposal changes nothing about the eligibility for any government assistance program.

I’m a refugee. Does this change apply to me?
No. There is no “public charge” test for refugees, asylees, applicants for U or T visas, VAWA self-petitioners or Special Immigrant Juveniles, and the proposal would not implement one.

I’m not an immigrant. How does this affect me?
One in four Houstonians is born in a different country. Immigrants make up a vital part of Houston’s culture and economy, and they will continue to do so. This proposal is dangerous to the public safety of all Houstonians because it ties public health services to a negative impact for legal immigration status qualification. The result will be fewer people seeking these services. That is certainly bad for the people who are not being served, but it will also influence the public health of the whole city. Fewer people seeking preventative services puts everyone at greater danger of communicable diseases. People in good health with stable housing are stronger participants in the economy, working hard and spending money, regardless of their immigration status. Hurting health care and housing stability influences us all.