The proposed rule change so broadens the definition of “Public Charge” as to include millions of people who are already contributing members of society and the economy.  It implicitly and incorrectly assumes that people who receive benefits now cannot become productive contributors in the future.

Most immigrants are not eligible for public benefits until they have had been in the US for 5 years. So, if at any point they need assistance, they will now need to choose to receive public benefits or have the chance to apply to be a legal permanent resident and eventually a citizen-where one has full rights to apply for and use public benefits. For many immigrants, education and income guidelines will affect their ability to get a visa possibly more than the use of public benefits themselves.

Instead of keeping the current definition of a “public charge” as someone “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence,” DHS would start denying green cards and temporary visas to anyone who is deemed likely at any time in the future to receive any government benefits from a specified list.

Under current rules, you are not considered “likely to become a public charge” as long as you have a sponsor who demonstrates income greater than 125% of the federal poverty guidelines (currently $20,575 for most couples without children. Congress requires most green card applicants to have a financial sponsor – typically a family member who is a U.S. citizen – who declares their willingness and ability to support their relative and prevent them from becoming dependent on government benefits.

This will change with the new standards. Now there will essentially be a wealth test imposed on new immigrants.

The only way to ensure not being affected by the new criteria would be to demonstrate a household income above 250% of the federal poverty guidelines. That’s currently $41,150 for a couple with no children and $73,550 for a family of five.

The Migration Policy Institute used Census data to estimate the impact of the 250% income threshold and found that some 56% of all family-based green card applicants could be denied.

If this new requirement were strictly enforced by both DHS and the State Department, then the administration could begin denying more than half of all marriage green card applicants each year. That could force nearly 200,000 couples annually to either leave the United States together or live apart indefinitely, according to a new report by Boundless.

40% of all green cards issued are for family reunification, but if those family members are poor, older, or less educated their visa will be denied. Grandparents, young children, and non-working spouses contribute in significant ways to our society even if they do not meet this wealth test.

The new standards will scare people off from applying for benefits-even people who qualify for them. This is known as a chilling effect, and there is good evidence to show this will happen in the current situation:

In 1996 a welfare reform law was passed. Food stamp use by noncitizens dropped by 43%. Refugee use of food stamps fell by 60% EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE ELIGIBLE AND NOT ADVERSELY AFFECTED. Families with at least one U.S. Citizen child legally entitled to benefits fell 53%. The perception alone of a negative consequence to their immigration status was enough to scare them away from using benefits to which they were entitled.

An estimated 24 million people in the United States would be affected by the chilling effect of the public charge regulation changes. Not all will face a public charge determination, but all are likely to be nervous about applying for benefits, and some portion will in fact disenroll from benefit programs.

In Cleveland, only 13.3% of eligible immigrants are naturalizing. Anyone thinking of applying for a green card will lose that opportunity if they use public benefits or do not earn sufficient income. Naturalized immigrants earn more than unnaturalized immigrants, yet these changes hamstring their opportunity to take care of themselves and their families during the interim. 

Yet Ohio’s immigrants pay into the U.S. entitlement programs they many cannot now use- to the tune of $412.1M to Medicare and $1.5B to Social Security, according to the New American Economy. They also contribute $2.1B in taxes, with no right to use the system.  

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank served 55.3 million meals in 2017

  • Over 4500 children, 10,450 seniors, and 4,600 low-income clients with health problems served.
  • Assisted with over 22,000 SNAP applications submissions
  • Made over 17.5 million meals available through SNAP

If immigrants are not eligible or afraid to use SNAP benefits it puts further stress on existing resources.

Immigrants help stabilize our population. In Ohio, there were 150,000 estimated lawful permanent residents in 2014, according to DHS. 737 refugees settled in Cleveland that same year and nearly 1,100 refugees resettled in Cleveland in 2016, according to the Refugee Service Collaborative. Many of these immigrants fill important jobs, bring new ideas to our community, and are more educated than the native-born population.

A 2018 report on Ohio’s New Americans found that 42.1% of Ohio’s immigrants have a 4-year degree or higher, according to the latest figures from the Census. That ranks Ohio as the most educated state in the nation for immigrants, tied with Maryland. Ohio’s 513,5929 immigrants have an oversized impact in ensuring that Ohio is globally connected.

By comparison, only 26.7% of native-born Ohioans are college-educated. That difference in college educational attainment between Ohio’s immigrants (42.1%) and their native-born counterparts (26.7%) is 15.4 percentage points: the largest divide in the nation.

Immigrants work in growing fields and fill employment gaps. The New American Economy found that the top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers are:

9.1%    Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services

7.7%    Educational Services

7.6%    Manufacturing

7.2%    Health Care and Social Assistance

7.1%    Transportation and Warehousing

Ohio’s immigrants primarily work in the Management, Business, Healthcare, and the Arts—a diverse professional services sector that includes industries such as education, hospitals, and other health facilities, and computer systems and legal services. Specifically, 43.6% of Ohio’s immigrants in the labor force work in the professional services sector: the second-highest concentration in the nation. Over seventeen percent (17.3%) work in Production and Transportation, ranking in the top 20 nationally. If these workers come upon hard times and cannot apply for benefits to support themselves and their families, will they quit? What kind of labor shortage will this cause? What kind of strain on the economy will workers who are not well fed and have medical care create?

About 20% of Ohio’s college-educated immigrants are underemployed—the fiscal effects are significant, with half a billion lost in foregone earnings and an associated $53 million in unrealized payroll tax receipts, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Public benefits can help support these immigrants while they work to obtain stronger language skills or acclimate appropriately to enter the workforce. It is important to support our immigrants so they can be as successful as they can and achieve their American Dream.

The New American Economy found that NEARLY 44% OF AMERICAN’S FORTUNE 500 COMPANIES WERE FOUNDED BY AN IMMIGRANT OR CHILD OF AN IMMIGRANT, and the children of these immigrants, who generation after generation have found even more success than their parents, have played a central role in shaping America’s economy. Immigrants pay into public benefits anyway, pay taxes anyway, and then go on to entrepreneurs. The least we can do is offer them support when they need it without tying their “self-sufficiency” to a green card.

The Fiscal Policy Institute found that immigrants applying for green cards based on family status or employment would be primarily affected. These types of immigrants are the ones who create stable home environments for the most growth and wellbeing of their communities, hence severely handicapping the economic security of those families as well as local economic growth.


Having an income of under $15,000 for a single person or $31,000 for a family of four would be weighed negatively, and could lead to a denial. Thus, coming from country with lower standards of living makes it practically impossible to pass the public charge test-codifying the racist, xenophobic rhetoric used by the President regarding which immigrants are worthy to be in the United States.

6.9 million children who are eligible for public benefits may not receive them because their parents are afraid to apply because of the parents’ status, thus weakening families and denying children the right to grow up healthy.  

NEO has the densest population of foreign-born residents in the state of Ohio. The immigrant population in the state at large is 4.3%, in Cleveland it is 5.2% but owner-occupied housing in Cleveland is 41.8% vs state rate of 66.1% makes denying immigrants use of public housing even more problematic.

13% of immigrants in Cleveland speak another language than English vs 6.9% statewide. Public charge changes would significantly affect Clevelanders at a disproportionate rate.

Median household income in Cleveland is $27,800 vs $52,400 statewide. Public charge changes would have a negative compounding effect because immigrants in poverty would not have any social safety net.

Ohio’s population lost about 183,000 native-born Ohioans over the past six years. But over that same period, nearly 113,000 immigrants moved into the state, “helping stabilize Ohio’s population, and are, in fact, a source of growth.” (

42.1% of Ohio’s immigrants have a four-year degree.

43.6% of Ohio’s immigrants work in the professional sector.

62.2% of Ohio’s immigrants are married with children.


Cuyahoga: 47.6% Native, married-couple family; 65.5% foreign-born, married couple family

Divorce rate: 9% vs 14% Foreign-born vs. Native-born

(Source: ACS 5-Year 2015 Percent of Married Family Households.)

Immigrants in Ohio are well educated but may not come with enough income to be awarded visas, change of status, or green cards, but that doesn’t mean they are a drain on our economy, they in fact help it by stabilizing the population and workforce.

It’s not just high-skilled immigrants Ohio needs, but low-skilled immigrants as well. In fact, many of America’s fastest-growing occupations require no secondary education at all, including construction and leisure and hospitality. Here, 18.1% of Ohio’s immigrants work in the service sector—including janitorial, housekeeping, and the food and beverage industry—while 6.5% work in construction and maintenance. The lower-skilled occupation that’s in most demand, however, is in personal care and home health, with an additional 1.1 million care providers needed by 2024. Yet the supply of workers is increasingly unmet.





Foreign-born workers play an increasingly important role in the stabilization of our economy and labor market as badly needed labor as baby boomers retire the growing labor force gap grows. Immigrants and their U.S. born children will mitigate this growing labor gap over the next several decades.

Home health aides, for instance, earn an average $10 per hour. To that end, there’s substantial evidence that shows immigrants fill the nation’s most demanding jobs in large part because native-born Americans won’t. (

23.3% of employed foreign-born persons 16 years and older work in service occupations-health care support, food preparation, building and grounds cleaning and maintenance, personal care and service.

It is often cited that immigrants take jobs and reduce wages. In fact, foreign-born workers add jobs by increasing consumer demand and they specialize in jobs that enhance demand for native-born workers by making the latter more productive (Cato Journal, Vol. 37, No. 3).

How many mothers, with the support of a foreign-born nanny, go back to work after having children? Or how many middle professionals can employ a foreign-born home health aide to help with their ailing parent and not have to take extended leaves from work? But it is precisely these immigrants that the proposed public charge changes effect because these kinds of jobs tend to not pay living wages, which precipitate the need for public assistance, which can get this caretaker deported if the proposed changes go into effect.

A total of 8.3 million children who are currently enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP or receiving SNAP benefits are potentially at risk of disenrollment, of whom:

5.5 million have specific medical needs:

615, 842 children with asthma,

53,728 children with epilepsy,

3,658 children with cancer, and

583,700 children with disabilities or functional limitations.


Nearly 2 million children are at risk of being disenrolled from these programs as parents choose between applying for a green card or receiving Food Stamps and Medicaid for their children. (JAMA Pediatrics. Published online July 1, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.1744)

Some children will themselves be subject to the Trump Rule. A far greater number live in families that will likely experience a chilling effect. In the United States, 9 million children under 18 years old live in families with at least one non-citizen family member and that have received one of the benefits specified by the Trump Rule. The large majority, 7.8 million of the 9 million, are United States citizens with a right to those benefits.

Legal immigrants use federal public benefit programs at lower rates than U.S.-born citizen

32.5% of native-born citizen adults receive SNAP benefits

25.4% of naturalized citizen adults receive SNAP benefits

29% of noncitizen adults receive SNAP benefits

In addition to immigrants’ lower rate of SNAP usage, they also receive lower benefit values, costing the program less, according to the National Immigration Forum.


29% of people born in the United States would be deemed unacceptable if they were subjected to the same test. (

The USDA calculates that every dollar in new SNAP benefits results in $1.80 in total economic activity in Ohio. There are over 37,000 households receiving SNAP benefits in Ohio.

3.5% are Latino/Hispanic households

38.4 are white households

50.3% of households have children under the age of 18

Over 60 million dollars a year are awarded in SNAP benefits, that generates more than 108 million dollars in economic activity produced.

Boston Medical Center’s Children’s HealthWatch’s study in 2018 surveying over 35,000 immigrant families have found that SNAP enrollment has dropped 10% in the first half of 2018, showing that the chilling effect started before these standards were even put in place.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute ran a simulation just regarding the use of the two most popular public subsidies: SNAP and Medicaid. The economic impact of potential disenrollment is HUGE.

Simulated Impact of Trump Rule

15% Disenrollment in SNAP and Medicaid 25% Disenrollment in SNAP and Medicaid 35% Disenrollment in SNAP and Medicaid
Reduction in Benefits $7.5 billion $12.5 billion $17.5 billion
Potential Economic Ripple Effects $14.5 billion  $24.1 billion $33.8 billion
Potential Jobs Lost 99,000 164,000 230,000


If money on this scale is withdrawn from the economy, there would be predictable ripple effects to businesses and workers. Withdrawal of SNAP funding means a reduction in spending in grocery stores and supermarkets. When families lose health insurance, hospitals and doctors lose income. Other spending would be reduced as well, as families struggle to pay food and health costs.

SNAP and Medicaid, along with other public benefits serve as an important economic stabilizer: they create a bigger stimulus during an economic downturn and less in a period of high growth, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute.

The chilling effect will hurt workforce development. As our nation continues its efforts to build a skilled workforce it is contending with record low unemployment. Businesses are struggling to fill open positions, particularly for middle-skill jobs.

Immigrants account for one in six U.S. workers. They are essential to closing this skill gap. The proposed rule would undercut immigrants’ ability to access training for middle-skill jobs. Even though the public charge proposal does not apply to some categories of immigrants (such as refugees), does not include education and workforce programs, people are nevertheless expected to withdraw from a wide array of public programs out of fear and confusion.

Thus:  the chilling effect goes far beyond the scope of the rule itself.  Immigrant participation in publicly funded adult education and workforce programs is expected to decline, which we see happening already with food and medical subsidies.

When basic needs cannot be met, dropout rates for training programs increases and fewer students enroll in education and training programs. Adult learners and jobseekers will have to decide between dis-enrolling from health and nutrition programs and jeopardize their ability to complete their training or to stay enrolled in the programs and potentially jeopardize their immigration status. Without being able to use public benefits such as SNAP and Medicaid to take care of basic needs, how will immigrants ever get past the economic hurdle to becoming economically self-sufficient?

Under the proposed regulation, one could be barred for having a child with a chronic illness, a home mortgage, a past dispute that has impacted one’s credit score, or an annual income under $63,000 a year (above the median household income for U.S.-born families), to name just a few of the numerous potentially disqualifying factors.

As a result, many immigrants who are working full time, supporting a family, and contributing to the economy could be barred admission or denied permanent residency. Legal status could be denied even to immigrants who are up to 95 percent self-sufficient, according to the CATO Institute.

Regarding Employers:

A U.S. employer is going to find it more difficult and much less predictable to extend the status of a highly skilled worker on an H-1B visa or to help switch a key recruit from a student visa to an H-1B.

Unless the employer is paying the worker more than that newly made-up threshold – 250% of the poverty line – they might not be able to renew their work visa and stay in the United States. Assuming $73,550 for a family of five, that’s potentially going to be some portion of H-1B professionals.

According to DHS the new public charge rule would affect over 500,000 temporary visa applications each year and compliance costs could top $1.3 billion over the next decade, which doesn’t include if the State Department starts applying the same standards to millions of applicants abroad.

Applicants’ approval process will become even longer, which is a burden on employers due to a new “Declaration of Self-Sufficiency form and the accompanying evidence.


Any of the following factors could become a “negative factor” that convinces DHS you are likely to become a public charge:

  1. Prior or current use of certain public benefits.
  2. Being older than 61.
  3. Being younger than 18.
  4. Having any medical condition that could interfere with school or work.
  5. Not having sufficient resources to cover such a medical condition.
  6. Not having private health insurance.
  7. Having several children or other dependents.
  8. Having financial liabilities.
  9. Having “bad credit” or a low credit score.
  10. Having no employment history.
  11. Not having a high school diploma or higher education.
  12. Not having “adequate education and skills” to hold a job.
  13. Not speaking English.
  14. Receiving an application fee waiver from DHS.
  15. Having a sworn financial sponsor whom DHS feels is “unlikely” to follow through.

These factors in any combination mean only wealthy, educated, working-age people are deemed worthy enough to reside in the United States and maybe eventually become United States Citizens

When you have to choose between getting a green card and taking your child to the doctor or letting them go hungry, there is a problem, and it is not that immigrants are depleting public resources.  The public charge changes deny humans the chance to contribute economically and socially, and by default will cost our taxpayers billions, our employers great workers, and our dignity as a nation of immigrants.


* * *








Compiled by Elizabeth Cusma for Global Cleveland, July 2019