Washington, DC - A new rule finalized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) makes unprecedented changes to how public charge is interpreted and administered. Public charge is a term used by U.S. immigration officials to refer to a person who is considered primarily dependent on the government by either receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.

Specifically, the rule expands the criteria used by immigration officials to determine if an individual is a public charge. Last year, the American Heart Association sent a letter to DHS opposing the proposed rule. 

The American Heart Association released the following statement in response to this rule being finalized:  

“This rule allows our government to discriminate against individuals based on their health status, or the health of a member of their family.  Simply put, implementation of this rule will harm the health and well-being of immigrants, their families, and the communities in which they reside.

“Under the rule, immigration officials can consider a wider range of government programs, including Medicaid programs, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and housing benefits in the determination of public charge. By altering the public charge test to include non-cash-based programs, such as programs designed to provide health care to low-income individuals and meals for the food insecure, this rule will drastically increase the scope of people who can be considered a public charge.

“The ripple effect of this rule could be huge, making individuals legally residing in America fearful to access programs for themselves and their families.

“We have long advocated for policies that support and encourage everyone, including immigrants and their families, to have access to affordable, quality health insurance and nutritious foods. Benefits programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP, and Section 8 were developed to help vulnerable American citizens and legal immigrants obtain housing, nutrition, and healthcare they otherwise would not be able to afford. For decades, public charge has been applied in a way that allows immigrants with legal status to access these essential safety-net services and programs without fear of compromising their ability to stay in this country. 

“We continue to oppose this change to public charge policy.  The restrictions it places on access to critical support services, and the health consequences that will occur as a result, are short-sighted and not in our nation’s long-term best interest.”