The Biden administration plans to roll out a new rule eliminating potential hurdles for immigrants depending on public benefits and trying to obtain legal status, according to a newly proposed regulation.
The proposed change brings the so-called “public charge” rule back to the forefront.
The Trump administration had modified the decades-old regulation in a way that could reshape the legal immigrant population in the United States by making it more difficult for individuals to obtain status.
The Biden administration is changing course by considering what public benefits would indicate that an individual is largely depending on the federal government and excluding benefits, like food assistance programs and housing benefits, that shouldn’t be used against an individual who is otherwise relying on their own resources.
Under the proposed rule, the Department of Homeland Security would consider benefits, like cash assistance for income maintenance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and long-term institutionalization at government expense, according to a notice sent to Congress.
“The 2019 public charge rule was not consistent with our nation’s values,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a statement. “Under this proposed rule, we will return to the historical understanding of the term ‘public charge’ and individuals will not be penalized for choosing to access the health benefits and other supplemental government services available to them.”
Under current regulations put in place in 1996, the term “public charge” is defined as someone who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance, meaning it supplies more than half their income.
But it only counted cash benefits, such as TANF or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security. The Trump administration widened the definition of who is expected to be dependent on the government by including more benefit programs. That change is no longer in effect.
Immigration officials can take into account an applicant’s financial resources, health, education, skills, family status and age. But few people are rejected on these relatively narrow grounds, experts said.
The use of disaster assistance, pandemic assistance and other benefits will also not count against immigrants, according to the notice.
DHS argued in the new proposed regulation that changes made in 2019 by the Trump administration had caused a chilling effect within immigrant communities, citing experts, and led to immigrants avoiding benefits like medical care over concerns that use of those benefits might keep them from obtaining legal status.
As a result, the Biden administration proposes to adopt a standard similar to what was used prior to 2019. The proposed rule will have a 60-day public comment period.