Last week the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a ruling that non-citizens who receive benefits provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) will not be subjected to harmful immigration consequences. DHS will no longer penalize noncitizens applying for lawful permanent residence for accessing available government benefits such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits; disaster assistance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) from being considered likely to become a “public charge”.
The new ruling allows that healthcare is a right and people who qualify for programs should not fear utilizing healthcare programs for fear it will jeopardize their immigration status. This is a reversal of a 2019 rule which discouraged non-citizens from seeking benefits, even health care benefits for their children. In 2019, rules allowed that receipt of these benefits could be used as evidence of becoming or being a “public charge”. Evidence of being or likely to become a “public charge” or someone likely to depend on the government for assistance would cause an application for citizenship or legal status to be rejected. This chilling effect rule applied to refugees, aslyees, those applying for non-protected status, trafficking victims and juveniles.
The Urban Institute found that one in five immigrant adults in families with children avoided public benefits in 2020 due to concerns about immigration status. They did not seek food assistance, Medicaid or CHIP benefits. There are about 22 million non-citizens in the United States according to the U.S. Census Bureau.