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April 25, 2022

WASHINGTON — A comment submitted today by California 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 1,070organizations nationwide, including Sacramento Covered..

“The pandemic has made it crystal clear that, when we deny families healthcare and social services based on where they were born, California is less resilient and more vulnerable to public health threats like COVID-19,” said Griselda Zamora, Director of Community Health at Sacramento Covered. “The Trump public charge policy deterred 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, including California, 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 is similar to, but different from Medicaid, a much larger health program named in the Trump policy. As stated in the comment, “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 Adriana Cadena, PIF coalition director. “We urge DHS to act quickly to finalize a responsible public charge policy.”