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The 7 Things You Need to Know About Public Charge

As an organization, we will see any patient, regardless of their race, ethnicity, where they are from, or their ability to pay. Unfortunately, the confusion around Public Charge has made some families hesitant to access health services.

AltaMed is committed to empowering the community to advocate for themselves and their loved ones. We want to ease any fears and help educate our members and their families about the proposed Public Charge rule, and how it could impact immigration and citizenship.

1. First off, what does ‘Public Charge’ mean?

Public Charge is a test that the government uses in certain immigration cases to determine who may depend on public benefits as their main source of support. Basically, if someone tries to enter the country with no relatives or skills, and no viable means of supporting themselves; or if they’re very young, very old, or have certain health conditions, the government can say, “This person should not be able to become a permanent residentbecause we believe they will be dependent upon public and taxpayer-funded services and resources to support themselves.”

2. Why are we talking about it now?

On October 10, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security released a proposal to expand the definition of the Public Charge rule. This means even more people could be prohibited from entering the country or getting on a path to permanent residency.

The new proposal expands the definition of public benefits to include certain Federal,non-cash medical, housing, and food benefits such as non-emergency Medicaid (known as Medi-Cal in California), Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy, SNAP (CalFresh/food stamps), Section 8 Housing Vouchers, and rental assistance.

3. When does it go into effect?

There is no set date. The next step is for the Department of Homeland Security to complete its review of all public comments – there are more than 260,000– so it could take a very long time. If and when the new guidelines do go into effect, they could be very different from the proposal.

4. Who is affected?

Public charge applies to:

  • Those applying for permanent resident status or a visa for the first time
  • Legal permanent residents who left the U.S. for six months or more
  • Individuals applying for a family-based visa petition
  • Undocumented children
  • Pregnant women
  • Anyone applying for a green card for the first time or seeking entry in the U.S.

If you’re not sure of your situation, consult an immigration attorney that is an expert on public charge to determine if you are affected.

The policy does NOT apply to anyone applying for citizenship or renewing a green card. It also does not impact the following groups:

  • People who are undocumented and not eligible for a green card
  • Refugees or asylees
  • U Visa or T Visa applicants/holders (survivors of domestic violence, trafficking and crime victims, and witnesses of serious crimes)
  • Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioners
  • Special Immigrant Juveniles
  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Applicants

5. Can someone be deported for using public benefits?

Yes, but in reality, very few people have been deported based on Public Charge. Under current policy, all three of the following conditions must also be met:

  1. Legal obligation to repay the cost of cash assistance or long-term care needs was established.
  2. The immigrant or sponsor must have received a notice to repay the debt within the five-year period.
  3. The immigrant or sponsor needs to have refused to repay the debt after the government declared legal action and won.

6. Should I continue to take my family to the doctor?

Yes. Once again, these changes have not gone into effect and no one knows if and when they will. We have heard stories that people who are lawful permanent residents, or families of citizens, have been forgoing crucial medical care out of fear that they’ll draw attention to their family that will result in arrests or deportation.

Currently, there is no penalty for using your health care benefits. There is no advantage to canceling, not applying for, or not using the health benefits you and your family are eligible for (except cash benefits and Medi-Cal long term care). If the changes are finalized, the benefits you use now will not be held against you.

Generally, ICE actions such as arrests, interviews, searches, and surveillance will not occur at sensitive locations, which include health care facilities like clinics and health centers.

You and your family’s health is very important to us. We are committed to serving our members with dignity and respect, and we encourage you to seek regular care.

7. Who do I talk to if I have questions?

The following resources may be able to assist you in determining your next steps:

Ready California, dedicated to the advancement of immigrant communities, with legal advice, self-serve educational materials.

Protecting Immigrant Families, a national organization made up of policy experts and advocates.

National Immigrant Law Center, one of the leading U.S. organizations dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of immigrants with low income.

Immigration Law Help, a resource that connects immigrants with local legal assistance.

Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, legal help on a variety of issues including immigration, employment, family law, and more.

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, offering legal services, community education, fundraising, and more.

Salvadoran American Leadership and Educational Fund, an organization with nearly 25 years of experience in providing citizenship services, advocacy, and community education.

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Make Your Voice Heard & Help AltaMed Make a Difference

This November 6, California will vote on major issues that will affect our state and everyone who lives here for years to come.

Some of the propositions on the ballot include measures related to:

  • Affordable housing and controlling the costs of rentals (Propositions 1 & 10)
  • Permanent supportive housing that could help reduce homelessness (Proposition 2)
  • Building and expanding hospitals that provide care for low-income children (Proposition 4)
  • There’s even a measure on the ballot that has an impact on the food we eat (Proposition 12).

All of us at AltaMed encourage you to learn more about the issues and vote. Your choices will have direct impact on California’s health care and social services. Whether you were born here or have taken another path to citizenship, voting is a privilege that gives you an active role in creating a better life for yourself and your community.

Volunteer to Make a Difference

Voting is a good start: It only takes a few votes to change the outcome of an election. In addition to getting registered and casting your vote, you can get your friends, neighbors and the entire community activated. We need volunteers to help us spread the word. Now until Election Day, we’re making phone calls and going door to door to share educational materials to remind our communities to vote on November 6th. All you have to do to make a difference is put on your walking shoes and join us for a few hours!

Our campaign office is located at
5211 E. Washington Blvd., Suite 15
Commerce, CA 90040

Volunteer opportunities available:

Thursdays: Phone Banking 4pm – 8 pm
Saturday & Sunday: Canvassing:
Saturday, 10am – 2pm
Sunday, 3pm – 7pm

Food will be provided for all volunteers.

To learn more, contact Cynthia Romo at 323-201-9704 or

Election Day

It’s Election Day: Stand Up for What You Believe In

Take an active role in making a better life for you, your family, and your community: VOTE! Today is Election Day, and some of the propositions on the ballot may affect your health, safety, quality of life, and finances.

Among the issues that will be decided today:

  • If cities can pass more rent control policies to protect affordable housing (Proposition 10)
  • The expansion and improvement of hospitals that care for low-income children (Proposition 4)
  • Whether or not California can build permanent supportive housing to help reduce homelessness (Proposition 2)
  • The cost and quality of kidney dialysis at outpatient dialysis clinics (Proposition 8)

And many more.

If you’re registered, get out and vote! If you’re not sure of where to go, you can find your polling location and hours here. If you need transportation to your polling location, please call 310-462-1682 to schedule your no-cost transportation. Your employer is required by law to give you time off to vote on Election Day if you need it; check with them first.

If you’re not registered, you can still get involved. Remind your friends and family to vote, like and share this post, and take five minutes to register to vote so you can be heard during the next election.

The 7 Things You Need to Know About Public Charge