Potential Changes to Public Charge Would Negatively Impact Georgia Families, Economy

On October 10, the federal administration released a proposal to radically change the U.S. immigration system by redefining the terms by which an immigrant would be considered likely to become a so-called “public charge.” If enacted, the proposed rule would likely cause a significant drop in legal immigration and hurt Georgia’s children, families and economy.

Public charge is one of the determining factors the United States considers when a person legally requests admission to the country or for people in the U.S. trying to gain lawful permanent resident status (i.e. obtain a green card). U.S. immigration officials have used “public charge” for decades to refer to a person who primarily depends on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either receipt of public cash assistance or long-term institutionalization at government expense.

A newly proposed rule expands the scope of public charge by including receipt of even a modest amount of health, food or housing benefits, including SNAP and some health care and housing assistance programs. It also adds, for the first time, an income test of 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Line, or about $31,000 for a family of four. If enacted, the rule would create a widespread chilling effect to accessing public benefits. Individuals might forgo health insurance, food or housing assistance for which they or their children are eligible because they fear risking a family member’s ability to gain future permanent status. This could cause economic hardship and threaten the health and well-being of Georgia families, communities and our state and local economy.

New data provides insight into how the proposed rule would impact Georgia. Those most directly affected would be people applying for a green card or certain visas to legally enter the country. Refugees, asylees, survivors of domestic violence, trafficking or serious crimes, special immigrant juveniles, or current legal permanent residents seeking citizenship are exempt. But the chilling effect would be significant.

Families are often comprised of individuals with different immigration statuses, including U.S. citizens and legal non-citizens. More than 1.2 million Georgians, including 420,000 children, are part of a family with at least one person who is not a citizen. Currently, 610,000 people, including 270,000 children, live in a Georgia household with at least one family member who is not a citizen and a family member who is receiving one of the benefits that will count as part of the newly proposed definition of public charge. These families could become fearful of accessing supports they are legally eligible for and forgo them even if they are unlikely to go through a public charge determination.

The changes would also ripple throughout Georgia’s economy. The data below show the range of the potential harmful effects of disenrollment from benefit programs such as food assistance that would be covered under the new rule. These data show the economic loss to Georgia if 15, 25, and 35 percent of people currently receiving benefits they are legally eligible to receive feel compelled to disenroll from programs because of the fear that accessing supports will endanger a family member’s status.

Potential Economic Loss to Georgia
Simulated Impact of Proposed Rule Lower Estimate
15% disenrollment
Middle Estimate
25% disenrollment
Higher Estimate
35% disenrollment
Loss of Federal Funds $139 million $231 million $323 million
Economic Ripple Effects $262 million $437 million $612 million
Jobs Lost 1,787 2,978 4,169

Source: From an analysis by the Fiscal Policy Institute, drawing on data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute. http://fiscalpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/US-Impact-of-Public-Charge.pdf

The proposed changes would have a dramatic impact on Georgia’s economy, creating job losses in the thousands, a dip in economic activity and a reduction in federal funds flowing to Georgia between $139 million to $323 million.[i] Disenrollment in these programs translates to fewer dollars available to compensate hospitals and health care providers for needed care and services, spending at local grocery stores and more. It also places the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of our neighbors at risk – many of whom are children.

The rule change is so drastic that even a large portion of current U.S. citizens would fail to meet the criteria. Thirty percent of U.S. citizens in Georgia and 14 percent of non-citizens might be deemed inadequate if the same rule were applied to them, pushing the American dream further out of reach for those seeking new opportunities and prosperity in the Peach State.

These changes cut to the heart of Georgia families, communities and our economy. In many cases, it forces parents to forgo benefits for themselves or their children, out of fear of risking their ability to legally enter or gain permanent status in the U.S. alongside their children, many of whom are U.S. citizens. In addition, the likely loss of a substantial amount of federal funds and job losses would handicap Georgia’s economy and create hardship for many Georgia families and local communities.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) filed the proposed rule change which was posted on Oct. 10, 2018. The rule is currently open for public input. Comments are due Dec. 10, 2018. To access the full text of the rule and to submit a comment, click here.


[i] Data draws on parallel data for Georgia from the Fiscal Policy Institute report, Only Wealthy Immigrants Need Apply, October 2018, http://fiscalpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/US-Impact-of-Public-Charge.pdf

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1 thought on “Potential Changes to Public Charge Would Negatively Impact Georgia Families, Economy”

  1. Just wanted to share that our analysis also says that the proposed change would use disability as a criteria to not allow immigration, meaning having a disability would keep you out of the country because it might cost for supports. . There has been lots of advocacy from people with disabilities opposing this new rule.

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