New “public charge” rule threatens the health of our communities

Update 2-3-20: The federal Department of Homeland Security says it will begin applying the new rule starting 2-24-20

A new immigration rule that Public Health–Seattle & King County (PHSKC) Director Patty Hayes calls “inhumane” will be going into effect soon, because of a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The rule would penalize some immigrants who use certain health, food or housing services and then apply for permanent (Green Card) status. This is scaring some people from using basic services that they are legally entitled to use — services that keep them healthy and promote overall community health.

Much of the harm from the new rule comes from spreading fear, unnecessarily. So, it is important to note this key fact: Many important health and nutrition programs are exempted from the final version of the new rule, thanks to more than 200,000 comments opposing the first draft.

For example, using these services would not impact anyone’s immigration status:

  • The WIC nutrition program for families with young children
  • Medicaid health services for pregnant women and for children under age 21
  • School breakfast and lunch programs

That means people may not need to disenroll themselves or their children from public programs.

Still, the rule does apply to many adults on Medicaid and to the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) food stamps program.

That’s a key reason why so many healthcare organizations, including American Academy of Pediatrics, American Hospital Association, and American Public Health Association, have strongly opposed the new rule.

King County Executive Dow Constantine issued this public statement about the rule:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the “Public Charge” rule allows the Trump administration’s unprecedented and un-American “wealth test” for immigrants to move forward. It is yet another harmful attack on the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our community – immigrants who are applying for a green card. The new rule may potentially scare away thousands of families from accessing food, health, and other safety net programs.

Fortunately, many immigrants will not be affected – and we must fight fear with the facts, so that no families in our community go without food or health care out of fear. Many programs – such as the WIC nutrition program – are not included in this rule. It does not directly impact citizen children of immigrants. And the fight will continue as the case returns to lower courts. 

King County is a welcoming and safe place where we support the dignity and respect of all residents – and our policies aim to improve access for all community members to education, health care, and social services.

We are committed to upholding our core American values by welcoming and protecting our neighbors.

Ever since it was first proposed, the rule has generated concerns at PHSKC clinics and outreach sites. We’ve offered Talking Points for our own employees to help fight the fears with facts.

For clients receiving services, every person’s situation is different, so they may need to speak with an attorney or legal advocate.

(Originally published 1-29-2020; updated 2-3-2020)

 

 

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I'm part of the communications team at Public Health - Seattle & King County and work closely with all of the programs in the Community Health Services Division.

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