New ‘Public Charge’ Rule Targets Immigrant Use of Health and Nutrition Services

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Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security published a new rule that may lead to increased hunger in immigrant communities across the nation. 

The rule expands the definition of a “public charge” — which is currently defined as someone who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance, meaning it supplies more than half their income — to include immigrants who have received public benefits, or who are likely to in the future. Those who are labeled a “public charge” may be barred from receiving a green card or re-entering the United States. 

Impacts on Hunger and Public Nutrition Program Participation Among Immigrant Families

SNAP (formerly “food stamps”) is a targeted program that is generally only available to immigrants who have already received a green card or other lawful permission to reside in our country. These families can fall on hard times like any other, and should be encouraged to keep themselves and their children nourished while they rebuild their financial security. 

The new rule will directly impact a very small slice of immigrants who are participating in SNAP. However, confusion may broadly chill participation in public nutrition programs. Families will worry about reaching out for help, and many may choose to disenroll from current food assistance programs rather than take risks with their residency. 

This is by design. While narrowly targeted, the rule contributes to the administration’s broader efforts to tilt our nation’s immigration system in favor of migrants from wealthier, whiter backgrounds. Fortunately, several states have challenged the new rule with litigation, which is likely to delay its effective date and could ultimately stop it entirely.

To learn more about which Texas families this rule will impact and how, please read our public charge explainer:

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