Applying for Food Assistance Won’t Make You a Public Charge: Did You Know About These Public Charge Changes? 

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Over the last few years, changes to the rule about immigrant applicants’ access to government benefits, made by the Trump and Biden administrations, have caused confusion and fear among immigrant communities around receiving public benefits like food assistance. The bottom line is that the health and well-being of millions of children are affected because of these uncertainties, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Our communities must understand their eligibility for essential assistance programs such as food stamps. Many families may be able to receive money for food, and they just don’t know it! 

Here is the latest update on this public charge rule under the current administration: 

What is public charge?

For over a century, the “public charge” rule has been a part of U.S. immigration law. Its goal is to identify individuals who rely or may rely on government assistance as their primary source of income in the future. The government can deny someone’s application for lawful permanent resident status (green card) if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) considers they would become a “public charge.”  Health, age, income and resources, education, skills, family support, sponsor, and usage of specific types of public benefits are all factors considered by immigration officers. However, not all public benefits are considered under the public charge rule. 

Who does public charge affect?

After the Biden Administration changed the public charge rule, more immigrants became eligible to receive public benefits such as food assistance (SNAP/Estampillas or WIC), housing, and Medicaid, without fearing that their status could be affected. Only cash assistance programs like SSI and TANF and long-term medical care, such as Medicaid for long-term nursing home care, are considered public charges

Those who should keep up-to-date about the public charge rule include: 

  • Immigrants applying for Lawful Permanent Residence (Green Card) through a family-based petition
  • Green Card Holders who leave the U.S. for over six months and seek to re-enter
  • Individuals wanting to enter the U.S. as “non-immigrants” temporarily

Those who have already applied for a green card or become citizens are not affected by the public charge rule. 

Does the Latino community know about changes in public charge? 

According to survey findings by Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, over 16 million people live in families that rely on benefits and include at least one Latino family member who is not a citizen. Still, Latinos are one of the largest racial/ethnic immigrant groups most likely to be impacted by the confusion about the public charge rule.

Only 27% of the Latino population surveyed said they are up-to-date on the most recent policy changes to the public charge rule. 

How does not knowing about public charge changes affect the Latino community?

According to USDA data, more than 1 in 5 Latino families with children faced hunger in 2020, a 28% rise from 2019. Because of their uncertainty and fear of adverse effects on their immigration status, eligible immigrant families are still unable to access services that help them feed, house, and keep their children healthy. As a result, more children in America are unnecessarily at risk of hunger.

Eligible immigrants should know that food assistance programs such as SNAP (food stamps) are available and will not affect their immigration status. Here is our step-by-step guide to applying for SNAP. 

Federal agencies, such as The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), are working to make sure that everyone who qualifies for nutrition assistance receives the help that they need.

A joint letter from the USDA and USCIS explains, if you apply for or receive food assistance, it will not affect your ability to:

  • Remain in the United States,
  • Get a Green Card/Permanent Legal Resident Status,
  • Keep a Green Card/Permanent Legal Resident Status, or
  • Become a U.S. Citizen.

You can also apply for Estampillas on behalf of the eligible immigrants or U.S. citizens in your family, even if you do not want to apply for benefits, without affecting your or their immigration status. For example, if a parent is not eligible for food assistance because of their immigration status, they can still apply for their eligible children.

Read more from the joint letter from FNS and USCIS here

Thalia Carrillo is a writer based in Austin, TX. She moved from her hometown of El Paso, TX to pursue a journalism degree at The University of Texas at Austin. She enjoys covering politics and pop culture and has a passion for social justice, digital storytelling, plants, and specialty coffee!