Gov. Wolf: Chilling Effect of Public Charge Rule Will Hurt Vulnerable New Pennsylvanians

August 13, 2019

Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today spoke out against the Trump Administration’s “Inadmissibility and Deportability on Public Charge Grounds” rule change, which penalizes immigrants who use public assistance programs to help meet basic needs.

“My administration vehemently opposes this rule change,” said Gov. Wolf. “This rule would force a family to make an impossible choice between accessing housing, food, or medical care and preserving one’s legal immigration status. Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn as a place of tolerance and freedom for immigrants regardless of their background. We intend to uphold our founding principles and ensure that any person who has made Pennsylvania their home has the ability to access the services they need to live a better, healthier life.”

Under the new rule, using programs like housing and food assistance or Medicaid would be considered against a person’s immigration status. This rule change could have a direct, negative effect on the more than 837,000 immigrants across Pennsylvania, including children, the elderly, and people with significant medical needs, and could result in a broader chilling effect with people choosing to forego public assistance for basic needs for fear of deportation.

A public charge determination is made when a legal immigrant applies for, requests to alter, or seeks to extend their immigration status. The public charge designation is used to determine if a person will become a dependent of state and/or federal assistance programs. The new rule expands this definition drastically to now include crucial programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing support, and Medicaid, in the definition of public benefits and negatively weights certain factors.

“No one should be afraid to access services,” said Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller. “The crippling impact of this proposed rule will drive low-income families away from the resources they need to be self-sufficient, contributing citizens in our society. The Trump Administration’s refusal to maintain the existing public charge guidance will lead to disjointed families, diminished health, and disrupted communities that weigh the heaviest on our children with disabilities or significant medical needs.”

The Wolf Administration strongly believes all people should have the right to receive services and assistance they need to reach self-sufficiency and achieve a better life. Losing access to SNAP can have major adverse effects on a person’s health and children’s academic performance. Individuals who try to preserve their immigration status by going without Medicaid coverage will likely use emergency rooms and inpatient hospital stays instead of primary care. This will strain hospitals with uncompensated care costs that are passed on through increased health care costs or more vulnerable people going without necessary medical care.

“Immigrants across Pennsylvania and the rest of the country come to the United States in pursuit of a better life and the American Dream, often at great personal cost,” said Gov. Wolf. “Communities should not live in fear of using programs that can help them as they pursue a better life in their new country. This shameful change serves no other purpose than to make life more difficult for new Pennsylvanians and immigrants around the country.”

For more information on public assistance programs in Pennsylvania, visit

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