August 14, 2019

Don’t Let Fear Win Out: Push Back Against Attacks on Immigrant Families

Today, the Trump administration published in the Federal Register a final rule on the definition of when an immigrant becomes a “public charge” — a rule that will fuel hunger and poverty in the U.S., and will force families, including those with U.S. citizen children, to make impossible choices between food and family.

The rule will take effect October 15, 2019, unless Congress or the courts act to stop or delay it.

About the Public Charge Rule

This proposed rule received more than 266,000 comments during the public comment period, the vast majority of them opposed to the rule. Nevertheless, the rule redefines public charge status to affect, adversely, those at certain stages of the immigration process, primarily when noncitizens in the U.S. seek to obtain lawful permanent resident status (get a “green card”).

When a noncitizen applies for lawful permanent resident status or for a visa, they are subjected to an assessment of their life circumstances to determine if they are likely to become a public charge in the future. Prior to this rule, a “public charge” was defined as a person who is or is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.

The administration’s new rule redefines what being a public charge means in both economic terms and program-receipt terms. The rule also now counts wealth and income as the primary markers of a person’s future contribution, fundamentally changing who can stay in the country. It assigns as a negative factor if the applicant has bad credit, has assets and resources below 125 percent of the federal poverty guideline, or has received immigration fee waivers. The rule also assigns a negative weight to many factors that have never before been relevant in a public charge determination, including being a child, a senior, or not speaking English. It also expands the list of programs that can be considered for a public charge determination (prior to the rule going into effect, only programs for cash assistance for income maintenance and long-term institutional care are counted). The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid (for people over the age of 21 who are not pregnant), and federal housing assistance will be added to the list of programs that are counted for public charge considerations once the rule goes into effect.

  • The rule is not yet in effect. It is slated to take effect on October 15, 2019, unless Congress or the courts act to stop or delay this ill-conceived rule.
  • The rule does not by its terms apply to many immigrants, such as refugees, asylees, survivors of domestic violence, and other protected groups. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (green card holders) also are not subject to public charge determinations.

This mean-spirited rule will have the effect of — and undoubtedly is intended to — frighten away from SNAP, Medicaid, and other programs eligible members of immigrant families and individuals, whether or not they are subject to public charge considerations. Prior to its final publication, the specter of the rule — and other administration attacks — already has had a chilling effect on the use of SNAP and other critical assistance programs, resulting in a poorer, sicker, and hungrier nation.

Take Action
FRAC urges advocates to support access to nutrition programs for all eligible individuals and families.

FRAC serves as the nutrition lead on the steering committee for the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign (PIF), which is mobilizing a nationwide resistance effort to reject attacks on the nation’s health and well-being. Join PIF to stay current on this and other attacks on immigrant families.

For questions, contact Alexandra Ashbrook (, FRAC’s director of special projects and initiatives.


About Us

FRAC is the leading national nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States. Visit our Web site ( to learn more.

Contact Us

Food Research & Action Center
1200 18th Street, NW Suite 400
Washington, District of Columbia 20036
(202) 986-2200

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