October 18, 2000
A Quick Guide to ‘Public Charge’
And Receipt of Public Benefits
This guide provides a summary of how receiving public benefits in the United States may or may not affect an alien under the "public charge" provisions of the immigration laws.
• Aliens applying to become Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) (who do not yet have a "green card") –
• An alien will not be considered a "public charge" for using:
– HEALTH CARE BENEFITS, including programs such as MassHealth, the Children’s Medical Security Plan, Healthy Start, or other free or low-cost medical care at clinics, health centers or other settings (other than long-term care in a nursing home or similar institution)
– FOOD PROGRAMS, such as Food Stamps, WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), school meals or other food assistance
– OTHER PROGRAMS THAT DO NOT GIVE CASH, such as public housing, child care, energy assistance, disaster relief, Head Start or job training or counseling
• INS may consider an alien’s use of the following in deciding whether to issue a "green card":
– CASH WELFARE, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI); cash Transitional Aid to Families With Dependent Children (TAFDC); and Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC)
– INSTITUTIONALIZATION for long-term care, such as residing in a nursing home or mental health facility at government expense
Note: INS will not consider CASH WELFARE or NON-CASH PROGRAMS received by an alien’s children or other family members for public charge purposes, unless the cash welfare is the family’s only means of support.
• Aliens who are LPRs (who already have a "green card") –
• LPRs cannot lose their status (have their "green card" revoked) if they, their children or other family members use:
– HEALTH CARE, FOOD PROGRAMS or other NON-CASH PROGRAMS
– CASH WELFARE (* see note below for exception)
– LONG-TERM CARE (* see note below for exception)
* LPRs who leave the country for more than 6 months at a time can be questioned about whether they are "public charges" when they return, and the use of cash welfare or long-term care may be considered.
* In very rare circumstances, LPRs who use cash welfare or long-term care within their first 5 years in the United States for reasons (such as an illness or disability) that existed before their entry to the United States could be considered deportable as a public charge.
• REFUGEES AND PEOPLE GRANTED ASYLUM can use any public benefits, including cash welfare, health care, food programs and other non-cash programs without hurting their chances of getting a "green card."
• SPONSORING RELATIVES – Using benefits, including cash welfare, health care, food programs and other non-cash benefits, does not prevent citizens and LPRs from sponsoring relatives. However, sponsors must submit an Affidavit of Support showing that they have enough money (alone or with a co-sponsor) to support their relatives at 125 percent of the poverty level.
• BECOMING A NATURALIZED U.S. CITIZEN – LPRs (who already have a "green card") cannot be turned down for U.S. citizenship for lawfully receiving any public benefits for which they are eligible.
Need More Information?
For more information about "public charge" –
• Please see the INS Web site at www.ins.usdoj.gov for a fact sheet and questions and answers. Information is available in several languages under Public Affairs.
For more information about how to enroll in benefit programs –
• Please contact the appropriate federal, state or local service agency. Calls are free. Helpful contacts include:
For Healthy Start: 1-800-531-2229
For Food Stamps: 1-800-645-8333
For WIC: 1-800-942-1007
For MassHealth: 1-800-841-2900
For Children’s Medical Security Plan: 1-800-909-2677
For TAFDC or EAEDC: 1-800-249-2007