WASHINGTON — A comment submitted today by 1,070 nonprofit organizations urges the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to act quickly in finalizing a “public charge” regulation that secures immigrant families’ access to the health and social services safety net. The comment was coordinated by the Protecting Immigrant Families coalition (PIF) and signed by national organizations and organizations in every state in the country, plus the District of Columbia.
“The pandemic has made it crystal clear that, when we deny people healthcare and social services based on where they were born, our country is less resilient and more vulnerable to public health threats like COVID-19,” said Adriana Cadena, PIF’s director. “The Trump public charge policy was a direct assault on essential workers, deterring immigrants of color in low-income families from applying for green cards and keeping families separated during a time when family connections mattered more than ever.”
The comment was submitted in response to a February regulatory proposal that would largely restore and improve upon the public charge policy in place for 20 years prior to the Trump Administration. The Trump public charge policy, which took effect just weeks before COVID-19 hit the United States, deterred millions in immigrant families from seeking health care and aid during the pandemic, undermining pandemic response and widening racial disparities in its economic and health impact. The PIF comment:
- Commends DHS for proposing a responsible definition of “public charge” that explicitly excludes Medicaid, SNAP and other federal benefits from being included in a public charge determination; and for publishing an enumerated list of categories of immigrants exempt from public charge determinations
- Urges DHS to make specific improvements:
- Clarifying that state, Tribal, and local cash assistance programs cannot be counted in public charge evaluations
- Excluding long-term nursing home care under Medicaid
Several states launched cash assistance programs during the pandemic, with the specific intent of providing economic aid to families excluded from federally-funded programs. Including such programs in public charge determinations, would frustrate states’ policy objectives and weaken pandemic response and recovery efforts.
Research has shown that the chilling effect of the Trump public charge policy extended well beyond the programs covered by that policy. For example, immigrant parents were deterred from covering their uninsured U.S. citizen children under the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which was not included in the Trump public charge regulation. But it is similar to, though different from, Medicaid, which was named as a negative factor in the Trump regulation. As stated in the comment submitted today, “allowing any type of Medicaid coverage to be considered in a public charge determination causes confusion and perpetuates the chilling effect.” The comment also indicates that, because people with disabilities are more likely than others to require nursing home care, considering Medicaid-financed nursing home care in public charge determinations would bias the policy against persons with disabilities.
“With a few common-sense improvements, the Biden Administration can finalize public charge regulations that protect immigrant families and the nation from reckless, racist abuses like those we saw under Trump,” said Cadena. “We urge DHS to act quickly to finalize a responsible public charge policy.”