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Immigrants and Public Benefits

How to Avoid Becoming a Public Charge

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Safe Public Benefits and Ones to Avoid

To avoid becoming a public charge, immigrants should avoid benefits that provide cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care. The type of benefit you may use without becoming a public charge is dependent on your immigration status.

Each program will have its own eligibility qualifications that must be met in order to participate in the program or receive benefits. Eligibility may also differ from state to state. It is important to check your eligibility with each agency.

Public Benefits for New Immigrants Applying for Permanent Residence

USCIS states that the following benefits may be used without a public charge penalty by legal immigrants who have not yet received their green card:

  • Health Care Benefits such as emergency Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), prenatal care, 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 WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), school meals, or other food assistance

  • Non-Cash Programs such as public housing, child care, energy assistance, disaster relief, Head Start, or job training or counseling

New immigrants should stay away from the following benefits to avoid a public charge determination. USCIS will consider your participation in the following when deciding whether or not to issue a green card:

  • Cash Welfare such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), cash Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and state and local cash assistance programs for income maintenance (often called "state General Assistance")

  • Institutionalization for long-term care, such as residing in a nursing home or mental health facility at government expense

Public Benefits for Green Card Holders

Legal permanent residents--green card holders--will not lose their status through public charge by using the following provided by USCIS:

  • Health Care Benefits such as emergency Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), prenatal care, 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

  • Non-Cash Programs such as public housing, child care, energy assistance, disaster relief, Head Start, or job training or counseling

  • *Cash Welfare such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), cash Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and state and local cash assistance programs for income maintenance (often called "state General Assistance")

  • *Institutionalization for long-term care, such as residing in a nursing home or mental health facility at government expense

*Take note: A green card holder who leaves the U.S. for more than 6 months at one time may be asked questions upon re-entry to determine if they are a public charge. At this point, use of cash welfare or long-term care will be carefully considered in deciding admissibility.

Source: USCIS

More on the next page: Immigrants and Public Benefits Questions & Answers

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