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The Biden Administration has reversed the 2019 public charge policy changes implemented by the Trump Administration, according to the US Department of Homeland Security.
The final rule was published on Sept. 9, 2022 and will go into effect on Dec. 23, 2022.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is Public Charge?
A person is considered a “public charge” if they would be reliant on certain public benefits upon entry into the US.
If someone is considered a public charge, officials can deny their entry into the US or modifications to their citizenship status.
What Changed Under the 2019 Public Charge Rule?
Before the 2019 changes by the Trump Administration, public benefits such as Medicaid and CHIP were excluded from the public charge rule. This means that lawfully present immigrants could obtain healthcare and other public benefits without consequence.
However, after the 2019 changes to the public charge rule, lawfully present immigrants who depend on public benefits such as Medicaid and CHIP for more than 12 months within any 36-month period, could be denied legal permanent residency or citizenship.
“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 US later?” tweeted Dr. Leana Wen, the former president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, in response to the 2019 changes.
The changes spurred fear of permanent residence and citizenship denial. It led to disenrollment from public benefit programs, of which many lawfully present immigrant families and their US-born children remained eligible, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
In fact, a 2021 KFF survey of Latino adults found that over 1 in 10 lawful permanent resident Latino adults reported that they or a family member did not participate in a government assistance program in the past three years due to immigration-related fears.
Forgoing much needed public assistance, such as healthcare, can have dire consequences.
For example, Latinos were less willing than other groups to get the COVID-19 vaccine, even though Latinos were disproportionately affected by the virus.
A KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor survey data from May 2021 found that almost 4 in 10 unvaccinated Latino adults said they were concerned that they may be required to provide a government-issued identification or Social Security number to get vaccinated, and about one third were concerned that getting the vaccine would negatively affect their own or a family member’s immigration status.
“Large shares of unvaccinated Hispanic adults, particularly those who are potentially undocumented, are unsure if they are eligible to get a vaccine or say they don’t have enough information about when or where to get one,” according to the survey. “At least half are unaware that the vaccines are free for all US residents and that all adults are eligible regardless of immigration status.”
Out With the Old, in With the New Public Charge Rule
The Biden Administration’s 2022 public charge rule reverses the Trump Administration’s changes.
This means that Medicaid, CHIP, and other public benefits can be used by lawfully present immigrants without them potentially being considered a public charge.
“In keeping with our nation’s values, this policy treats all those we serve with fairness and respect,” said US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ur M. Jaddou in a news release. “Though there is still much to do to overcome confusion and fear, we will continue to work to break down barriers in the immigration system, restore faith and trust with our immigrant communities, and eliminate excessive burdens in the application process.”
A person will now be considered a public charge if they will likely become dependent on federal cash assistance programs or government-funded institutionalized long-term care, such as mental health or nursing home care, according to KFF.
Unfortunately, these changes still disproportionately affect people with disabilities and older adults, who are more likely to use long-term institutionalization services.
Undocumented noncitizen immigrants remain ineligible for federal health coverage options under the Biden Administration and will continue to face healthcare challenges.
While these changes hopefully reduce fear of using public benefits in lawfully present immigrants and their US-born children, KFF notes that it will likely require community-level efforts to rebuild trust and reduce fears among families.
“Even with community level outreach and enrollment efforts, some families may remain fearful and confused about the policy,” KFF stated. “For example, in earlier research, some families have expressed concerns that rules may change in the future.”
What Can You Do to Help Latinos?
Do your part to create healthier, equitable communities.
You can start by identifying the health inequities and vulnerabilities in your local county.
Just download the Salud America! Health Equity Report Card. This is a data tool that auto-generates Latino-focused and local data with interactive maps and comparative gauges, which can help you visualize and explore inequities in housing, transit, poverty, health care, food, and education.
You will see how your county compares to your state and nation in these health equity issues.
Then you can email your Report Card to your local leaders to advocate for healthy change!