Bad News: Final Rule on Public Charge Will Hurt Latino Families


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The Trump Administration has announced its final decision regarding the public charge rule, which is set to take effect Oct. 15, 2019.

This new regulation changes the policies used to decide whether the officials can deny an individual’s citizenship application or modifications to their citizenship status if they are determined likely to become a public charge, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The changes could considerably reduce the number of legal immigrants permitted to enter and stay in the U.S. — by making it easier to reject green card and visa applications.

Immigrants and Children of Immigrants as a Share of the Total U.S. Population, 2017. Source: KFF.

The new rule is bad news for public health, according to Mark Del Monte, CEO and Interim Executive Vice President of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“[We] strongly opposes the final rule issued today to expand the definition of what it means to be a ‘public charge,’ making it harder for immigrants to enter the United States and advance through the immigration process,” Monte said in a press release. “Make no mistake: this rule is a threat to the health of immigrant children and families.”

Key Implications

Before the new rule, a public charge was defined as, “an alien who has become or who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence,” according to U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The new definition under the unpublished final rule is, “an alien who receives one or more public benefits for more than 12 months…within any 36-month period.”

Meaning an individual’s receipt of two public benefits in one month technically counts as two months.

“Of course, this rule comes at a time of relentless hardship for immigrant families in the U.S. as a result of policies put forth by this Administration that harms their health and safety,” states Del Monte.

“The public charge rule further intimidates these families and expands on the chilling effects pediatricians have seen across the country ever since the proposed rule was issued, with families disenrolling from or avoiding critical health programs and services they are eligible for.”

Under the changes, officials will newly consider the use of specific previously excluded programs, including:

  • Non-emergency Medicaid for non-pregnant adults
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Several housing programs, in public charge determinations

The rule will create countless barriers for those seeking a green card or immigrating to the U.S.

These new barriers will likely lead to reductions in participation in Medicaid and other assistant programs among immigrant families and their predominantly U.S.-born children beyond those directly affected by the new policy.

Across the U.S., more than 13.5 million Medicaid and CHIP enrollees, including 7.6 million children, live in a household with at least one noncitizen or are non-citizens themselves.

This puts many families at risk for reduced enrollment.

“Real-world impact of the public charge regulation from today: multiple clients calling my office today to ask if they should unenroll their COMPLETELY ELIGIBLE U.S. citizen kids from health insurance and free/reduced lunches,” tweeted Kara Lynum, an immigration attorney. 

The new rule will decrease participation in many programs, which will contribute to countless of inequities, including more uninsured individuals and negatively affect the health and financial stabilities of Latino families.

The New Rule & Latino Families

It is well known that nutrition assistance programs such as WIC and SNAP are useful tools for keeping kids and their families healthy, particularly for Latino and minority populations.

“When my parents and I first immigrated to America, we depended on Medicaid and food stamps. It was our lifeline. I cannot imagine what we would have decided: survival now, or the ability to stay in the U.S. later?” tweeted Dr. Leana Wen, the former president and CEO of Planned Parenthood.

Furthermore, the rule will likely intensify fear and confusion amongst Latinos whether they are citizens or not as well as if their program is not part of the new policy.

The assistance programs that the government will consider under the public charge rule include:

  • SSI
  • TANF
  • Federal, state, or local cash benefit programs for income maintenance
  • Non-emergency Medicaid for non-pregnant adults over age 21
  • SNAP
  • Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program
  • Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance
  • Subsidized public housing

“We urge the Administration to reverse this public charge final rule, which will not only carry serious consequences for the children and families impacted but also our country; we must support the health of all children if we are to reach our full potential as a nation,” said Del Monte.

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