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PRWORA Commissioners Letter

The following is a model letter on the public charge issue to be sent to the welfare commissioners in all states.

All States

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) of the Department of Justice published a proposed rule in the Federal Register on May 26, 1999, and will be issuing interim instructions which will state which benefits a noncitizen may receive without fear of negative immigration consequences. At the same time, the Department of State will issue to consular officers abroad similar instructions to be used in issuing visas. Recent immigration and welfare reform laws have generated considerable confusion about whether the receipt of federal, state, or local public benefits for which an alien may be eligible renders him or her a "public charge" under the immigration statutes governing admissibility, adjustment of status, and deportation. We believe that these instructions and the proposed rule will allay fears among the nation’s immigrant communities about what public assistance benefits will be considered for "public charge" purposes.

The notice and instructions define "public charge" to mean an alien who is primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either receiving public cash assistance for income maintenance, or by being institutionalized for long-term care at government expense. The receipt of food stamp benefits will not result in an individual being considered a public charge. Food stamp benefits will not be considered even in areas where they are provided in the form of cash.

The policy specified in the instructions and the proposed notice will allow non-citizens and their families to apply for food stamps and other nutrition assistance benefits that they are entitled to receive without fear of immigration consequences. It will also enhance public health and transition to self-sufficiency for working families.

We are attaching a copy of a fact sheet and questions and answers that INS has prepared.

Please communicate this information to your staff that administer the Food Stamp Program, and let us know if any questions or concerns relating to the Food Stamp Program arise.

Regional Administrator
Food and Nutrition Service

Page updated: January 03, 2023