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Updated on March 9, 2021 Changes to Public Charge: HSA Answers Your Questions

Public charge is a legal term that describes someone who relies primarily on government benefits for support. In 2019, a federal government rule expanded the list of programs used to decide if an immigrant is considered a “public charge.” That 2019 change has been reversed and the previous rule is back in place. Please see below for more information and check back for more details. 

What this means for immigrants

  • You can safely use the health, nutrition, and housing programs that you and your family qualify for. 
  • Your use of a voucher for Medi-Cal, CalFresh, public housing, or housing choice will NO LONGER be considered when you apply for a green card or entry into the United States.
  • Your medical treatment or preventive services for COVID-19, including vaccines, will NOT be considered for public charge purposes.
  • If you apply for a green card or entry into the country, the only programs considered under the public charge test are:   
    • Cash assistance programs, such as CalWORKs, CAAP, and SSI
    • Institutional long-term care paid for by Medi-Cal

Apply for benefits  
We urge you to seek the supportive benefits you need for you and your family. Apply for Medi-Cal, CalFresh, CalWORKs and CAAP online through MyBenefits CalWIN or by phone at (415) 558-4700.

Know your rights. Get the facts 
For questions about public charge and your benefits:

  • See our Frequently Asked Questions below.
  • Call the Bay Area Legal Aid Free Advice Line at (800) 551-5554Mondays and Thursdays, 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. | Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is public charge?
Public charge is a term used in immigration law to describe someone who is likely to rely on government benefits for support.

A “public charge” test is used by federal immigration officials to decide who they will allow into the United States and who can get Lawful Permanent Residency (LPR)—also known as a green card.  It is also applied to LRPs who leave the country for six months and seek to reenter.  Public charge does not apply to applications to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

2. Has the public charge rule changed?
In 2019, the federal government expanded the list of programs that may be considered under the public charge test. Thanks to the Biden administration, that 2019 change has been reversed and the previous rule is back in place.

3. Which programs are now considered in the public charge test?
If you apply for a green card or entry into the country, the only programs now considered under the public charge test are:  

  • Cash assistance programs, such as CalWORKs, CAAP, and SSI
  • Institutional long-term care paid for by Medi-Cal

Use of these benefits alone will not lead to an automatic determination that you are likely to become a public charge. It is just one factor of several considered when making a determination.

4. I heard that if I receive CalFresh, it could be harder for me to get a green card. Is that true?
No.  

5. I heard that if I receive Medi-Cal, it could be harder for me to get a green card. Is that true?
No, unless you live in a long-term care facility and Medi-Cal is covering the costs of your residency.

6. I heard that if I live in public housing or receive a housing choice voucher or other rental assistance, it could be harder for me to get a green card. Is that true?
No.

7. What if I do not receive any benefits but my children do?  Will their use of benefits impact my application for a green card?
No.

8. Does public charge apply to all immigrants?
No. Most immigrants who receive public benefits and services are not be impacted by public charge. The public charge test does not apply to refugees, asylees, and other categories of humanitarian immigrants. Additionally, the test does not apply to green card holders who are applying for U.S. citizenship or green card renewal.

Each immigration case is unique. Find out how public charge might – or might not – affect your family by calling Bay Area Legal Aid's FREE Legal Advice Line at (800) 551-5554. Support is available in all languages.

9. When does the federal government use the public charge test?
Public charge applies to a limited number of legal immigration statuses, and only at specific points on the immigration pathway. Generally, the public charge test is applied when someone:

  • Applies to enter the U.S.
  • Applies to adjust their immigration status to become an LPR (obtain a green card)
  • Is a green card holder and is reentering the country after leaving the U.S. for more than six consecutive months

10. Is the public charge test used if I or a family member applies citizenship?
No. The public charge rule does not apply to applications for citizenship.

11. I have heard the public charge test applies to green card renewals. Is this true?
No. If you currently have a green card and need to renew, the public charge test does not apply.

12. Has eligibility for public benefits changed?
No. The rules for California’s public assistance benefits HAVE NOT changed. If you are eligible to receive Medi-Cal, CalFresh, CalWORKs, cash and child care assistance, or In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) now, you are still eligible for those benefits. 

13. I am concerned about the privacy of my information. How is the information provided about myself or my family used by the Human Services Agency?
The federal government does not access our systems for immigration enforcement action. HSA uses the information you give us only to see if you are eligible for benefits. We may need to verify the information you provide on a public benefit application with the federal government, but only to confirm your eligibility to receive services. 

14. Will discontinuing my benefits remove my information from California’s systems? 
No. State and local computer systems keep a record of your old case, so we will continue to have your information on file. Choosing to stop your benefits will result in loss of critical health care coverage, cash, and food assistance, but won’t erase existing records..

15. I still have questions about how participating in public benefit programs could impact my immigration status or citizenship. Can you provide me with assistance?
HSA wants to help you understand your rights and continue to receive the assistance you and your family need now. We cannot provide legal guidance but are partnering with qualified immigration attorneys to provide free help.

More information

  • For questions about public benefits and public charge, call Bay Area Legal Aid's Legal Advice Line at (800) 551-5554.
  • For free immigration legal help, email immigrants.sfgov.orgSupport available in all languages.