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Thursday
Oct112018

Public charge: Another attack on immigrant families!

Public charge: Another attack on Immigrant Families!

The Trump administration has released the long-awaited full version of the proposed changes to the “public charge” rule. The impact of the rule would be to force immigrant families to choose between receiving vital federally-funded health, food and housing assistance or being eligible to apply for green cards or visas.

How would the rule operate? A public charge is defined as an individual who is “likely to be primarily dependent” on the government for subsistence. Being considered a public charge is especially troubling for immigrants, as it could be grounds for the government to deny immigrants visas or green cards. In the past, immigrants could only be considered a public charge if they had received government cash benefits, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

The Trump administration’s proposed changes would widen the definition of public charge to include four additional types of public benefits: non-emergency Medicaid coverage, premium and cost-sharing assistance for low-income people receiving Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage, SNAP food assistance and housing assistance (i.e. Section 8 voucher and public housing). In addition, the proposal includes a new income requirement; to overcome the public charge test, immigrants must make at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Level.

The proposed rule would disproportionately harm women and children. Women are the heads of 80% of single parent households, which means they are more likely to have incomes below the required minimum income. Children are also more likely to receive SNAP, which makes them more likely to be considered a public charge. Moreover, many states make an exception for pregnant women and children to the usual five-year bans on non-emergency Medicaid coverage for immigrants. So, those immigrant pregnant women who do enroll in that needed coverage would be deemed a public charge, and thus ineligible to apply for a green card. Do we really want to discourage pregnant women from getting health coverage?
 
It is worth noting that the final proposed version is not as harmful as previously leaked versions. A lot of the provisions that were most detrimental to women and children have been removed, such as including WIC and children’s health insurance (CHIP) as determinants for public charge consideration. Additionally, the final proposal removes an especially damaging provision that would have penalized immigrants for having other family members, including US-born children, enrolled in public benefit programs. This means that immigrant families can still continue to enroll in WIC and CHIP, and people with citizenship or green cards can enroll in any public benefit programs without endangering members of their families.

However, it is still worth noting that this is an unprecedented change. Public charge has been a long-standing rule that has remained the same for decades. Though this proposal is not yet in effect, it has already created a chilling effect in health care, with many immigrants preemptively dropping out of essential public health programs for fear of being deported. These changes are estimated to impact as many as 24 million immigrants, including 9 million children.

So what are our next steps? The 60 day public comment period is open, and it is a critical time for you to voice your opinions about the repercussions of these proposed changes. The Protecting Immigrant Families coalition has created an action page with guidance and a template that you can use to submit your comments, which can be accessed here.

The Trump administration is specifically asking for feedback on possibly including CHIP as a public charge determinant in the final version. Be sure to include your thoughts on this to help prevent this proposal from being more dangerous than it already is.

 

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