Food for People

The Food Bank for Humboldt County

Public Charge

CalFresh for Non-Citizens & "Public Charge"

STATUS UPDATE -- January 28, 2020:

On January 27, 2020, the Supreme Court lifted the national injunction that prevented the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from implementing the public charge rule expansion for:

  • persons who are seeking a visa for admission into the United States,

  • applying for legal permanent residency (LPR, also knowns as “Green Card”),

  • or legal permanent residents who have traveled outside the United States for 180+ days.​

The legal battles are still underway, and there is still hope the rule expansion will be shut down, but in the meantime DHS can impose the changes.

It is critical to note that even under the new rule:

  • Benefits used by family members will not count in public charge decisions made in the U.S.
  • Parents of U.S. citizens can apply for public benefits for their eligible children.
  • There is NO public charge test to renew a green card. (But if taking a trip outside the U.S. that lasts longer than 180 days, a person could be subject to public charge when coming back into the country.)
  • There is NO public charge test when a green card holder applies for naturalization (to become a U.S. citizen).

These resources are recommended for persons who would like to know if they are impacted and how to proceed:

  • Screening Web Tool: / - will help you determine whether or not you are subject to public charge.
  • Screening Text Tool: 650-376-8006.  Text “benefits” (for English) , “libre” (for Spanish), “福利” (Chinese) or “lợiích” (Vietnamese)  - will help you determine whether or not you are subject to public charge
  • One CA Public Charge provider list - directory of immigration legal services providers that have training in dealing with public charge.


Past Updates & History:
STATUS UPDATE Oct 11, 2019:

On October 11th, 2019, three federal judges issued a nationwide temporary injunction blocking this rule from going into effect October 15th, 2019. While we wait for a permanent injunction, this means that it will continue to be safe, after Oct 15th, for non-citizens to access the specific benefits listed below, and it will not impact public charge determination. The Administration will likely challenge the judge's decicion on appeal, so stay tuned. Click here to read the official 24-page ruling.

STATUS UPDATE Jan 13, 2020:

On January 8, 2020, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Administration's efforts to lift the New York District Court's injunction. Despite appeals court rulings in December that lifted injunctions in two other cases, the rule remains blocked nationwide! It continues to be safe to access benefits.

The legal battle is not over. The government continues to appeal on an expedited schedule. We expect decisions in the next couple of months, if not sooner. We will keep you up to date as we learn more.


History of the proposed new rule

The following information is based on analysis of the final public charge rule on inadmissibility that was intended to go into effect, but is not currently in place due to a temporary injunction. This is not legal advice. For information about a specific case, please contact an immigration expert. To find help in your area, visit

On August 14, 2019 the new rule regarding public charge was posted to the federal register, and it was intended to go into effect 60 days later, on October 15, 2019. Law suits were filed by states and counties, and they were successful at receiving a nationwide temporary injunction from 3 federal judges, to block the rule from going into effect for a few months, however...(The Supreme Court lifted the national injunction on January 27, 2020, so the Dept. of Homeland Security is no longer prevented from implementing the expansion of public charge.) Law suits were filed by California, Washington, New York, Virgina, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania, District of Colombia, and 2 California counties) 266,000 people submitted comments during the comment period, which helped make a few improvements to the rule.

What was the difference between the longstanding rule and the proposed new rule? Some major changes are important to understand. There is a false impression that receiving benefits means a person is not contributing. In fact a vast majority (91%) of those that could have been affected are working, but for low wages.

The (still for the timebeing) current definition of Public Charge: an individual who is likely to become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance, or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.”

Being classified as a Public Charge may hurt chances of becoming a U.S. citizen in the future. In the past this has typically applied to cash aid programs and long-term care institutionalization and NOT programs such as SNAP/CalFresh, Medicaid, Section 8 Housing, etc.

Proposed definition of Public Charge: An individual who receives one or more of the below listed public benefits for more than 12 months in a 36 month period. Each benefit counts as one month (so receiving 3 of these benefits in one month equals 3 months). The proposed expanded list of benefits include:

  • Cash Assistance for income maintenance (this was part of previous definition and will continue to be)
  • Institutionalization for long-term care at government expense (this was part of previous definition and will continue to be)
  • SNAP (CalFresh in California)
  • Medicaid (with exceptions--does not include Part D. There are exceptions for emergency medical conditions, coverage of children under age 21, and pregnant women)
  • Federal, State, Local, and Tribal Cash Assistance
  • Housing Assistance (public housing, Section 8 Housing Vouchers, and Rental Assistance

These would not be the only factors the government would have considered in determining Public Charge. It would also have looked at totality of circumstances, such as age, health, family status, financial status, education and skills.

Clearing up misinformation: There is still misinformation about which other programs affect Public Charge determination. Please note the following:

  • School meals were NOT included in the proposed Public Charge rule. It would have remained safe to fill out applications for the school meal program! Please help get the word out that no one should fear enrolling for free and reduced-cost school meals for their children.
  • WIC was NOT included in the final version of the proposed Public Charge rule (thanks to a lot of advocay work and public comments)
When does Public Charge come up?
  • Applying to be allowed into U.S. for first time
  • Applying to adjust status to become a Legap Permanent Resident (LPR) – obtaining a green card
  • Green card holder who leaves U.S. for more than 180 consecutive days.
Where to find more information about what was proposed: