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.

For patients, this means that you can receive Medicaid benefits (Apple Health coverage in Washington), as well as emergency and COVID-19 treatment, without worrying about a public charge test or impact to immigration status. However, those receiving long-term, institutionalized care, such as that of a hospice or nursing facility, may be considered a public charge under the 1999 Field Guidance. If this applies to you or anyone you know, you may want to contact an immigration attorney to discuss the implications of that care on Lawful Permanent Resident status. Our Legal and Immigration Resources page includes links to help you find an attorney if needed.


➔ Learn more about the 1999 Field Guidance in our FAQ


While the Trump administration’s public charge rule change was withdrawn and is no longer in effect, it did create a “chilling effect” which has resulted in continued confusion and concern related to the use of public benefit programs. Please see here for a number of up to date, educational tools on this topic and in multiple languages at the Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF) website:

Reviewed on 7/2/2021