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WIC Commissioner's Model Letter on Public Charge

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

State Health Commissioners
All States

Today, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) of the Department of Justice published a proposed regulation and INS field guidance, which will be implemented immediately, on public charge. The regulation and guidance state which benefits noncitizens may receive without negative immigration consequences. The State Department is issuing to its consulates overseas comparable policy and guidance to be used in issuing visas. This is to advise you that the INS regulation and field guidance state that participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children will not result in a determination of public charge.

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 the INS proposed rule and field guidance will allay concerns among the nation’s immigrant communities about what public benefits will be considered for "public charge" purposes.

The INS regulation and field guidance define "public charge" to mean an alien who has become or is likely to become 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. Income maintenance programs that will be considered for public charge purposes include Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, general assistance programs for income maintenance purposes, and programs (including Medicaid) supporting aliens who reside in an institution for long-term care.

Collectively, the INS regulation and field guidance specifically state that participation in FNS Programs including the WIC program, Food Stamps, and other nutrition programs such as School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, and other supplementary and emergency food assistance programs, will not result in an individual being considered a public charge. WIC participants are not required to repay or terminate program benefits in order to adjust immigration status. If children or family members born in the U.S. participate in the WIC program, it will not affect the immigration status of other family members. In addition, there is no public charge test for naturalization; therefore, participation in WIC will not affect application for naturalization. These are all concerns which have arisen in the WIC community. The INS regulation and field guidance are consistent with policy developed in concert with the INS and State Department and issued by the Food and Nutrition Service for the WIC program in WIC Policy Memorandum #98-7, dated March 19, 1998, entitled "Impact of Participation in the WIC Program on Alien Status."

The policy specified in the INS proposed regulation and field guidance will allow noncitizens and their families to apply for the WIC Program that they are entitled to receive without immigration consequences. It will also enhance public health and transition to self-sufficiency for working families.

Enclosed is a copy of a fact sheet that INS has prepared. Please note that receipt of benefits under the Medicaid Program (except in the case of institutionalization for long-term care primarily at government expense) or the Children’s Health Insurance Program will not be considered in making a public charge determination.

Please communicate this information as soon as possible to your staff that administer the WIC program so that program applicants and participants can be notified. Questions or concerns that may arise regarding WIC program participation and public charge should be raised to the appropriate staff in the FNS regional office. Information about INS’ publication on public charge and its impact on the WIC program and other FNS programs can be found on FNS’ website at: http://www.fns.usda.gov.

Regional Administrator
Food and Nutrition Service

cc: WIC state agencies

Page updated: February 28, 2022