Putting out the ‘unwelcome mat:’ The Announced Public Charge Rule reduced safety net enrollment among exempt noncitizens

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Jeremy Barofsky
Ariadna Vargas
Dinardo Rodriguez
Eva Matos
Anthony Barrows


Public Charge, WIC, SNAP, Immigration, Administrative Burden


Government action shapes the perceived and actual costs of citizens’ interactions with the state. By manipulating these costs, policymakers can affect citizens’ willingness to engage with the state, strongly impacting short- and long-term wellbeing. In September 2018, the Trump administration announced its intention to change how an immigrant’s likelihood of becoming a “public charge” would be evaluated. Once adopted, the rule would penalize certain classes of noncitizens for using safety net programs, potentially jeopardizing their application for permanent residence. We hypothesize that this proposed change increased psychological and learning burdens for low-income immigrants well beyond those directly impacted by the rule. Specifically, we used difference-in-differences models to analyze whether the announcement reduced safety net use among two groups exempt from the rule’s provisions: any WIC enrollee and noncitizen SNAP enrollees that are already legal permanent residents, refugees, or asylees. Even though the WIC program was excluded from the proposed rule, we find reductions in overall WIC use after the announcement. In addition, we show that SNAP enrollment decreased differentially after the announcement for noncitizens, nearly all of whom were likely exempt from the rule.

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