Get the Facts about "Public Charge"

The information on this page does not, and is not intended to, constitute as legal advice. Instead, all content below is provided for general informational purposes only.


Current Status of the "Public Charge" Issue for Immigrants

On March 11, 2021 President Biden formally rescinded the Trump-era public charge rule. As a result, both U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State are no longer enforcing this cruel and restrictive policy. You can find out more information from the USCIS page about public charge here.

Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to issue a decision on whether Republican-led states have the authority to defend the Trump administration's public charge rule, which means that the 1999 interim field guidance is still in effect. Many immigrant advocacy organizations believe that it currently remains safe for eligible immigrants to enroll in health, nutrition, and housing benefits.

Now that Trump's public charge rule has been revoked, USCIS is utilizing public charge guidance from 1999. See below for the latest updates regarding public charge, adapted from the national Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition.

  1. What is the definition of a public charge under the 1999 Field Guidance?
    Under the 1999 Guidance, a "public charge" is a person who is or has become (for deportation/removal purposes) or who is likely to become (for admission/adjustment of status purposes) ''primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either (i) the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or (ii) institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.''

  2. **Who does public charge apply to?
    The "Public Charge Inadmissibility Test" affects people applying for admission to the country or for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status.
    It does NOT apply to:
    • Humanitarian immigrants such as refugees, asylees, domestic violence survivors, trafficking, and other serious crimes
    • Special immigrant juveniles
    • Certain individuals paroled into the U.S.
    A complete list can be found at 8 CFR §212.23(a).

  3. Why are there two sets of regulations for public charge?
    Because two different federal departments are responsible for interpreting public charge determinations.

    Decisions about applications for admission or LPR status processed outside the U.S. (at embassies or consular offices abroad) are made by Department of State (DOS) officials. The DOS regulations affect people seeking immigrant and nonimmigrant visas and people seeking to be admitted to the U.S. as LPRs. The changes also affect applicants for LPR status who are required to leave the U.S. to seek status through consular processing.

    Decisions about applications for admission and adjustment to LPR status processed inside the U.S. are made by officials of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).**

  4. What public benefits are considered under the 1999 Field Guidance?
    The only benefits considered are "cash assistance for income maintenance" and "institutionalization for long-term care at government expense." If public charge applies to an individual, only the following benefits will be considered in a public charge test of inadmissibility:
    • Monthly cash assistance intended to support a person. This includes Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and state-based cash assistance programs.
    • Long-term institutional care at government expense.

    DHS will NOT consider the following benefits in a public charge test:
    • Medicaid, Emergency Medicaid, Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), state and locally-based health care programs (for services other than long-term care), and other health coverage, including subsidies for insurance purchased through,, and other healthcare exchanges
    • Nutrition programs, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aka "food stamps", Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), school lunch programs, and food banks
    • Subsidized housing programs, such as Section 8 and public housing
    • COVID-related supports, such as Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT), stimulus payments, child tax credits, emergency rental assistance, and more, although the USCIS Policy Manual has listed that USCIS will consider receiving benefits from the Washington State Consolidated Emergency Assistance Program (CEAP) for public charge purposes. See the Quick Reference Guide below for details.
    • Other state-based, non-cash assistance programs
    • Cash benefits based on work or earnings, including Social Security, retirement, pensions, veterans benefits.

Many advocates recommend that families should continue to use the services for which they are eligible for. However, each immigration situation is unique. The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) recommends that if you are uncertain about your status or a family member's status and/or use of benefits, you should speak with an immigration attorney or Department of Justice (DOJ)-accredited representative.

You may be able to find a lawyer through the American Immigration Lawyers Association here. You can find the nearest DOJ-accredited organization here.

You can find the City of Seattle's 2018 public comment against the proposed public charge rule here.


Public Charge Information for Immigrants

Use of all local City of Seattle program such as the Utility Discount Program and Seattle Preschool Program will not impact your ability to apply for lawful permanent residency (green card) or U.S. citizenship.

Go here to see the many Seattle programs that immigrants may be eligible for, regardless of their immigration status and regardless of the public charge rule.