off the charts
POLICY INSIGHT
BEYOND THE NUMBERS

Agencies Should Quickly End Trump Public Charge Policies, Remove Other Barriers to Public Supports

Federal agencies should move quickly to implement President Biden’s directive to review the harmful Trump-era “public charge” regulations, which would mark an important first step to address the harms caused by the Trump Administration’s radical changes to the public charge policy that had been in effect for decades.

The Trump policy severely limited family-based immigration for people with low or moderate incomes by creating many obstacles, including the rejection of immigration applications from any person who received or is deemed likely to receive in the future any of a host of public benefits, even for modest periods.

This sweeping policy change effectively closed the door to lawful immigration for many. It also has coerced people to forgo benefits for which they are eligible because they’re concerned that if they receive help, they’ll lose their ability — or their family members’ ability — to remain in the United States permanently. Moreover, the Trump public charge regulations have caused so much fear and confusion that many people who aren’t directly affected by them are forgoing benefits as well.

The hardship caused by COVID-19 and the deep economic downturn makes access to health coverage, nutrition assistance, and other economic security programs even more critical. The Biden Administration must act quickly to undo the Trump public charge policy and take additional steps to ensure that people have access to critical supports:

  • The Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and of State should quickly issue answers to frequently asked questions that clarify who is — and is not — likely to ever face a public charge determination, which would help reduce the number of people who face little or no immigration risk and who are forgoing help that their families need. In particular, most people eligible for the benefit programs considered negatively in a public charge test will never be required to undergo a future public charge assessment. Therefore, people who are eligible for these programs and services generally should not forgo them due to public charge concerns. DHS and the State Department should also address common misperceptions, such as the misguided concern that the use of benefits by U.S. citizen children could negatively affect a parent’s future immigration application — children’s receipt does not affect parents in any way under the regulation.
  • DHS and the State Department should act quickly to reverse the Trump-era public charge policies that are preventing people from getting health services and other important supports. Without a rule change, many will continue to forgo access to the services they need to weather the pandemic and economic crises. People may also avoid or delay getting health care they need due to fear, which not only puts their own health at risk but thwarts efforts to contain COVID-19.
  • The White House should launch an interagency, nationwide public education campaign designed to reduce fear and restore trust among immigrants and their families. DHS and the State Department, as well as agencies that administer benefit programs, should use this campaign to raise awareness about the value of enrolling in programs and to address immigration-related misconceptions and fears. They should especially clarify that information collected by benefit programs will be used only for eligibility purposes and not for immigration enforcement.