Hundreds of Thousands Weigh in on Proposed Public Charge Rule

This week, we joined over 215,000 individuals and organizations in commenting on the proposed rule to radically change the meaning of public charge.

As a reminder, public charge is a term used in U.S. immigration law to refer to a person who is likely to become dependent on the government for financial and material support. An immigrant who is deemed likely to become a public charge may be denied admission to the U.S. or unable to adjust their status to become a lawful permanent resident or green card holder.

On October 10, the Department of Homeland Security issued a proposed rule called Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds to radically expand the scope and nature of the public charge test. If finalized, the rule would make it far more difficult to immigrate to the U.S. or obtain a green card by: applying the public charge test more often, expanding the list of public benefits considered to include benefits such as Medicaid and SNAP, lowering the threshold for public charge from primarily dependent on to likely to receive a public benefit, and imposing a specific income rule.

It will be some time before we know what the public record holds, but in the meantime, here’s a quick synopsis of our comments asking that the rule be rescinded in its entirety. You can read our full comment letter here.

The impact of the proposed rule would be felt far and wide. Though the proposed rule is limited to applicants for visas and green cards, it could impact over 10 million citizen children with noncitizen parents, or approximately one in seven children in the U.S., as well as immigrant communities as a whole, through what is known as the “chilling effect.” For example, even though benefit use by family members would not be considered under the proposed rule, families may decide not to enroll citizen children in programs such as Medicaid out of fear and confusion. By adding Medicaid, SNAP and housing assistance programs to the definition of public benefit for public charge determinations, the proposed rule would penalize and discourage children and families from accessing needed services.

Having Medicaid helps; losing Medicaid will hurt. Medicaid is a critical source of coverage for children, especially children living in or near poverty and children with disabilities or other special health care needs. A large body of research shows that access to Medicaid in childhood leads to longer, healthier lives, a better chance to finish high school and college, and a more prosperous future.

The proposed rule will undo decades of work to help children get and stay covered. Over the past several decades, policymakers have worked hard to reduce the number of uninsured children and this work has paid off. In 2016, the uninsured rate for children in the U.S. reached a historic low of 4.7 percent and ethnic disparities for Hispanic children narrowed dramatically. Unfortunately, these hard-fought gains have already started to erode. In 2017, the number of uninsured children increased by an estimated 276,000 to about 3.9 million. The rate of uninsured children also ticked upward to 5 percent overall and 7.8 percent of Hispanic children, marking the first significant increase in the child uninsurance rate since comparable data was first collected in 2008. A recent study estimated that 2.1 million to 4.9 million Medicaid/CHIP beneficiaries may disenroll because of this proposed rule, and the vast majority would become uninsured as a result. The proposed rule would undo decades of work to help children get and stay covered – increasing the uninsurance rate significantly for children.

Let’s get back to work helping children get the health care they need rather than pursuing these harmful policies that will only make it harder for families to live healthy, productive, and stable lives.

Kelly Whitener
Kelly Whitener is an Associate Professor of the Practice at the Center for Children and Families