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AG Nessel Joins Coalition Applauding New Federal Effort to Revise 'Public Charge' Regulations

LANSING - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of 21 attorneys general in a comment letter applauding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) efforts to revise and update federal "public charge" regulations. The comment letter also highlights the substantial harms of the now-defunct 2019 Public Charge Rule (2019 Rule) put forward by the previous administration.

In contrast to the 2019 Rule, the current rulemaking priorities will help protect the health and safety of immigrant families, as well as interconnected communities across the country.

"The health and well-being of our communities is increasingly interconnected, especially as we continue to combat this pandemic," Nessel said. "Protecting access to key public programs is imperative. I applaud the Biden administration for their efforts to issue a rule to protect the health and safety of immigrant communities and beyond."

Longstanding guidance by the federal government has defined a "public charge" as a person who is primarily and permanently dependent on either public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutional long-term care at the government's expense. Under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, a noncitizen who is likely to become a public charge is generally inadmissible to the United States and ineligible to become a lawful permanent resident.

The previous administration sought to expand the definition of a public charge by declaring that the use of additional government programs constitutes grounds for such a determination, including the use of healthcare through federally-funded Medicaid, nutrition and food support through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Section 8 housing assistance.

Following court decisions across the country blocking the 2019 Rule, the rule was vacated in March 2021. Importantly, the current advance rulemaking efforts by the federal government recognize that the health and safety of all of our communities is interconnected, particularly in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In the comment letter, the coalition asserts: 

  • Public charge policy should be consistent with its well-settled meaning, and Congress's subsequent expansion of public benefits; 
  • DHS should avoid chilling effects on public benefit usage when promulgating public charge policy; 
  • The 2019 Rule harmed and impeded public health responses to the pandemic, and DHS' exemptions related to COVID-19 were insufficient; 
  • The 2019 Rule also interfered with the states' ability to provide effective economic relief during the COVID-19 crisis; 
  • DHS should seek to avoid unnecessary costs to state operations and agencies; and 
  • Any public benefits DHS considers in defining a public charge should be limited, clearly identified, and not undermine the interests of states in promoting public health and welfare. 

Joining Attorney General Nessel in filing this comment letter are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.