The Biden administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed scrapping an interpretation of the public charge rule, implemented under the Trump administration, which caused immigrant households to avoid or drop out of noncash public services such as food benefits and health care programs.
The rule preexisted the Trump administration. It is meant to prevent immigrants who will be reliant on government programs from attaining a green card. However, the Trump administration expanded the interpretation of the rule to include more forms of government assistance that were previously allowed.
“The 2019 public charge rule was not consistent with our nation’s values,” said DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, in a statement. “Under this proposed rule, we will return to the historical understanding of the term ‘public charge’ and individuals will not be penalized for choosing to access the health benefits and other supplemental government services available to them.”
Under the DHS proposal, the government could still consider Supplemental Security Income; cash assistance for “income maintenance” under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program; state, tribal, territorial and local cash assistance; and long-term institutionalization at government expense, according to the news release.
It would not count housing benefits, transportation vouchers, food benefits, most Medicaid services or a children’s health care program. The government would also ignore disaster assistance, pandemic assistance, tax credits or deductions, Social Security or other “earned benefits.”
News of the Trump administration’s change to the public charge rule came out in 2018. A 2019 survey and analysis by the Urban Institute found that nearly one in seven adults in immigrant families either avoided or dropped out of certain benefits programs in 2018 out of fear that participation would hurt their chances to get a green card.
Advocates believed that this would have a chilling effect on the use of some benefits. The Urban Institute’s Well-Being and Basic Needs survey found that nearly one in seven adults in immigrant households reported that they or a family member had foregone benefits to avoid triggering the rule.
That number jumped to one in five for families making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
According to a Washington State Budget & Policy Center estimate, nearly one in three Washingtonians would struggle to clear the bar the Trump administration set for immigrants if it were applied to everyone in the state. The figure was only slightly higher for immigrant households at 32 percent than it was for citizens at 31 percent.
The Center estimated at the time that the rule could impact as many as 580,000 people in Washington, including hundreds of thousands of children.
Ashley Archibald is the editor of Real Change News.
Read more of the Feb. 23-Mar. 1, 2022 issue.