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Virginia Organizing’s Comment
Virginia Organizing strongly urges the Dept. of Homeland Security to desist from making any changes to the public charge rule. If the proposed changes are implemented, immigrants will be denied visas and green cards just because they are not wealthy, or because they are sick or have a disability, or because they have sought help from Medicaid, SNAP, or housing assistance programs.
This is not good public policy. First, it might deprive the United States of many of our residents, residents that we at Virginia Organizing value highly. Second, this type of anti-immigrant political rhetoric is already making those who remain more fearful of seeking help when they need it, which will harm many communities.
Immigrants benefit this country. They are often not wealthy, but they contribute to our well-being in Virginia in countless ways. They enrich our culture and keep many of our industries going. They are our neighbors, friends, co-workers, caregivers, and family members.
According to the Center for American Progress, in their fact sheet which compiles statistics from nearly 100 peer reviewed publications, “the overall financial effect of immigrants on tax revenue is positive. From 2011 to 2013, children of immigrants contributed $1,700 per person to state and local budgets, and immigrants’ grandchildren contributed another $1,300. Across three generations, immigrants’ net contribution, per person, was $900.”
Furthermore, “the impact of immigration on the wages of U.S.-born individuals is small but positive over the long run. Economist Heidi Shierholz estimates that from 1994 to 2007, immigration increased average wages of U.S.-born individuals 0.4 percent, or $3.68 per week. Immigrants consume goods and services, creating jobs for natives and other immigrants alike. These results are consistent with those of other studies by economists such as David Card, Gianmarco Ottaviano, and Giovanni Peri.”
Immigrants are not a drain on our economy, but just the reverse. However, these families sometimes have financial setbacks like the rest of us. Like the rest of us they sometimes need a little help. We all are better off when immigrants can get the help they need so that they can continue to care for their families and the larger communities they live in. Programs like SNAP and Medicaid have been shown to reduce poverty, and this reduction leads to more prosperity for everyone. (The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Economic Security Programs Cut Poverty Nearly in Half over the Last 50 Years,” https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/economic-security-programs-cut-poverty-nearly-in-half-over-last-50.)
Public assistance programs like SNAP and Medicaid also contribute to the state economy. Medicaid funding keeps public health clinics and hospitals solvent. (See: https://www.manatt.com/Insights/White-Papers/2018/Medicaid-Payments-at-Risk-for-Hospitals-Under-Publ) If immigrants lose these benefits, that will cost Virginia thousands of jobs and millions in economic productivity. (See: http://fiscalpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/50-states-economic-impact-of-public-charge-1.pdf)
Our organization finds that the main reason workers sometimes need public assistance to pay for food or rent is that their employers have not paid them a living wage. Immigrants often have to take the lowest paying jobs, and many immigrants have to work more than one full-time job. Even so, a car breakdown or an illness can mean lost work hours and a loss of income the family needed to pay for food or rent. That’s when public assistance comes to the rescue and helps a working family remain in their housing and survive the difficulty. There is plenty of evidence that this kind of assistance does not provide a way to avoid employment. It actually supports people going back to work after the crisis is over instead of ending up homeless or disabled. (See, for example, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities information on how SNAP helps workers keep working: https://www.cbpp.org/blog/the-facts-on-snap-part-2-snap-supports-work.)
At Virginia Organizing, we believe all workers have a right to a living wage and good, affordable health care. Having to take public assistance to get by is nothing to be ashamed of. If immigrants are afraid to apply for assistance, that will only lead to hunger and poor health among children, lower productivity in the workplace, and a general lack of safety and prosperity in many communities. In the Commonwealth of Virginia alone as many as 430,000 people could be harmed by the effects of this rule change.
The evidence is clear that public assistance for immigrants helps our communities thrive. Immigrants are good for America, and so is making sure that all members of our country can get the help they need, when they need it, without fear.
From our Partners at Healthcare for America Now (HCAN):
Public Charge Rule Change Proposal Is An Attack on Immigrant Families
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The Trump Administration “public charge” rule change unfairly takes health care, housing, and food assistance from low-income immigrant families facing the greatest obstacles.
The Trump Administration has proposed a change to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “public charge” rule that could result in devastating consequences for immigrants and their families. The proposed change to the public charge rule would expand the list of public services and criteria that immigration officials could consider when making determinations about immigrant status, resulting in the denial of green cards or permanent legal status based on the use or the anticipated use of some public services like Medicaid, SNAP or housing assistance among others.
What is “public charge?”
“Public charge” is a long- standing immigration policy designed to identify people who are likely to become primarily dependent on government services to meet their basic needs. The government can deny someone admission to the United States or deny them permanent legal status (or a green card) if officials determine that the person may become a “public charge” to the United States. Currently, immigration officials consider a short list of public resources in determinations about permanent resident status:
- Cash assistance such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Government-funded long-term care in institutions.
How are decisions about public charge made?
Immigration officials look at the “totality of circumstances,” which includes use of these programs above as well as a range of other factors like the applicant’s age, health, family status, financial status, education and skills, and their affidavit of support (if they have one) to decide who is likely to depend on public programs in the future.
What changes are being proposed?
The proposed changes would expand the list of public services that could be used in determinations about permanent status to include key programs like:
- Medicaid coverage including Medicaid-funded community and home-based care for people with disabilities (small exceptions for emergency care, some disabilities services tied to education)
- SNAP or food stamps
- Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidies
- Housing Assistance including Section 8 housing vouchers and rental assistance
Receipt of cash benefits (like SSI or TANF) above a certain minimum threshold in the 36 months before applying for status would be considered “significant negative factors” in the public charge determination.Immigrants who receive more than $1,821 annually, 15 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, in benefits that can be monetized would be disqualified from receiving green cards and visas.
Any non-cash benefits (like Medicaid, SNAP) used prior to the proposed rule becomes final and effective would not be considered in determinations about immigrant status. In the proposed rule change, for non-cash benefits like Medicaid and housing, officials could not look back more than 12 months in a 36 month period or 9 months for people who receive both kinds of benefits.
In addition, the proposed rule adopts new criteria that could be considered as factors against granting someone a green card or permanent legal status.
- It proposes new income requirements for immigrants, requiring that the immigrant earn at least 125% of FPL and favoring those who have household incomes of 250% of FPL or higher. To avoid scrutiny under the new rule, a family of 4 would need to earn nearly $63,000 annually.
- In addition to income, the rule proposes new standards to consider when evaluating criteria for determinations including age, health and education. These rules would disadvantage applicants with limited English proficiency, physical or mental health challenges and disabilities.
How are immigrants’ U.S. born children considered under this rule change?
In earlier leaked versions, there was some speculation that benefits used by U. S. born children of immigrants might also be used in determinations of immigrant status for parents but so far, the proposal does not include that language. However, exclusion of children from the rule doesn’t mean that children won’t suffer the consequences of lost benefits.
Research shows that when parents don’t have adequate health care, housing or nutrition, the whole family suffers and that outcomes for children are worse. This rule is already having a “chilling effect” on the use of public services, even those not listed in the proposed rule change. Out of fear or concern for the impact on immigration status, for instance, parents may opt out of basic services for themselves in and are less likely to also enroll children in programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or other services for which they would qualify.
What is the likely impact on immigrant families of this rule change?
This rule change is already having a chilling effect on immigrant families, many who face increasing fear and concern that receiving health and safety benefits and services might prevent them or their other family members from becoming legal permanent residents. Many will opt out of all services and go without housing, healthcare, food and other critical services–even ones not included in public charge determination– in order to avoid implications for their immigration status. For example, A March, 2018, survey showed that nearly two-thirds of providers in 18 states reported big drop-offs from immigrant mothers in WIC (Women, Infants and Children) because of fear that participation in the program would impact immigration status.
According to CLASP, “if this rule is finalized many immigrant families will be afraid to apply for critical health, housing, and nutrition programs. Approximately 9.2 million children would potentially be impacted, including 7.9 million U.S. citizen children.”
Who will NOT be impacted?
Some groups of immigrants including refugees, asylees, survivors of domestic violence and other protected groups are not subject to the public charge rule or rule change. The public charge consideration also doesn’t apply to existing permanent residents applying to become U.S. citizens. Active duty servicemembers, their spouses and children are also not impacted by public charge.