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What the Latest on Public Charge Rule Means for Families

In this blog post, Kayla Goldfarb provides an overview of the recent executive order on the public charge rule and outlines the work ahead to ensure all families can access vital safety net programs.

Kayla Goldfarb March 1, 2021
  • Policy and Systems
  • Blog

Amidst a wave of executive orders (EO) issued by the Biden administration, the immigration-focused EO signed in early February 10 has the potential to dramatically impact immigrant families by starting the process of dismantling the public charge rule.

The “public charge” inadmissibility test has been a feature of immigration law for decades. It allows the government to deny an immigrant’s application for admission to the United States or their application for lawful permanent resident status (or “green card”) if they are deemed likely to depend on public benefit support in the future. The prior administration instituted changes to criteria for how public charge determinations are made, further restricting who can lawfully live in this country.

Recognizing that the rule is and will be in effect as the current administration works through appropriate processes, advocates and family-facing agencies must push for clear and accurate information, while still working toward a full reversal of public charge regulations.

What does the executive order entail?
The latest EO calls on relevant federal agencies to review and evaluate the effects of the 2019 public charge rule and address the policies’ effects on our immigration and public health systems within 60 days. Agencies are also directed to develop communications that clarify the applicability of the public charge rule to reduce the harmful impact on immigrants and their families, who may turn down available safety net programs benefits due to a fear of immigration-related consequences. This is known as the “chilling effect.” The EO does not, however, directly rescind or replace the rule.

What is the impact on families with young children?
Even prior to the public charge rule taking effect in early 2020, there was a decline in the uptake of safety net supports by families, often due to fear of immigration-related consequences.1 Now, despite new economic hardships created by the COVID-19 pandemic, these “chilling effect” fears are exasperated and families continue to disenroll from vital public supports. In 2020, one in six adults in immigrant families reported avoiding using non-cash public benefits, fearing potential impacts on future green card applications or other immigration status or enforcement concerns.2

Fully dismantling the public charge rule carries substantial implications for child and maternal health. In Illinois, 27% of the total child population has one or more foreign-born parents, and within this population, over 214,000 account for children under age 6. 3 In addition, 35% of Illinois’ children rely on public insurance for routine and preventative care, as well as urgent health care needs. 4 The impacts of forgone prenatal, postpartum and well-child visits, in addition to other public benefits supports like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or housing assistance, jeopardize birth, early health and longer-term developmental outcomes.

Noting the disproportionate harmful impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on communities of color, including immigrant families, there is increased urgency to repeal the public charge rule and further ensure that families feel safe accessing safety net supports for which they are eligible. Moreover, by dismantling the public charge rule and fostering acceptance of and support for immigrant families across relevant federal agencies, the administration can uphold its commitment to increasing racial equity.

What comes next?
Advocates can urge the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to issue clear guidance on the range of programs and individuals impacted by the public charge rule. Through administrative advocacy, allies can push for a full reversal of public charge regulations, including urgent rulemaking by DHS to overturn the policies.

Providers and others who work closely with immigrant families can also begin gathering stories about the impact that the public charge rule has had on families with young children, which will be crucial to support comments on the next round of DHS rulemaking.

Finally, to dispel misinformation and fear, family-facing providers can continue to share the latest information from leading immigrant-rights organizations. See below.


1K. Whitener et al, “Decade of Success for Latino Children’s Health Now in Jeopardy,” Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, (March 2020)
2 Hamutal Bernstein, Dulce Gonzalez, Michael Karpman, and Stephen Zuckerman, “Immigrant Families Continued Avoiding the Safety Net during the COVID-19 Crisis” (Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 2021).
3 Migration Policy Institute, State Immigration Data Profiles 2018
4Kaiser Family Foundation’s “Health Insurance Coverage of Children 0-18,” estimates based on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 2008-2018