Policy Info

Public Charge On March 9, 2021, the Department of Justice notified the U.S. Supreme Court that it had agreed to withdraw its appeal defending the public charge rule introduced by the Trump administration. When the Supreme Court dismissed the case, the lower courts’ injunctions preventing the rule from being applied went back into effect. The Department of Justice also withdrew its appeal in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which meant that the Northern District of Illinois’ ruling that the October 2019 public charge rule was invalid was final and effective. To implement that court order, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) posted a final rule that officially withdrew the October 2019 public charge rule.

In place of the rule, USCIS has reinstated the 1999 Field Guidance. This guidance defines a public charge as a person who is, has become, or is likely to become ‘‘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.’’ This means that immigrants and refugees can now apply for any other public benefit for which they are eligible without fear of it being held against them when applying for admission to the U.S. or adjustment of immigration status.

➔ Learn more about the 1999 Field Guidance in our FAQs

Accessing Public Benefits As of March 9, 2021, the use of public benefits, such as SNAP (“food stamps”), will not be held against immigrants when applying for admission to the U.S. or adjustment of immigration status. Washington state immigrants and refugees should feel free to seek any public benefits for which they qualify.

On April 2, 2021, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) formally withdrew the Trump administration’s proposed mixed-status rule. This rule would have split up or evicted thousands of mixed-status immigrant families from public or other subsidized housing, putting them at risk of homelessness. Mixed-status immigrant families no longer need to worry about this rule being put into effect.

Individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic can access benefits made available by the Washington state’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) Disaster Cash Assistance Program (DCAP). This program is open to immigrants and refugees, and anyone seeking to apply for these funds is encouraged to reach out to DSHS to inquire about their eligibility. Learn more about this process in the DCAP FAQ.

Accessing Healthcare Under the Affordable Care Act, many immigrants and refugees are fully eligible for insurance, including Washington State’s Apple Health (Medicaid). Individuals should check their eligibility before applying. In April 2021, the Washington State Health Care Authority confirmed that the Trump administration’s public charge rule no longer applies. Eligible immigrants and refugees can receive Apple Health coverage without fear of it impacting an application for a green card (lawful permanent resident status) or a visa. For more information on public charge and Apple Health, visit the Washington State Health Care Authority’s website, which offers an FAQ in English and Spanish.

Immigrants and refugees without insurance can still receive care at some healthcare facilities, including emergency rooms, community and migrant health centers, local free clinics, and public hospitals. If you are an immigrant or refugee and do not have a doctor, you can call a local health center in Washington to learn more. Locate one here.

Sponsor Responsibilities In immigration law, a “sponsor” is defined as someone who helps an immigrant or refugee become a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) by signing a document called an “affidavit of support.” A sponsor may be legally and financially responsible for those they sponsor under some circumstances. To learn more, check out the sponsor liability FAQ.
Questions? If you have questions or concerns about the potential impact of your use of public benefits, contact an immigration attorney. You may contact one of the following organizations for help:


Reviewed on 4/12/2021