Immigrants Need Clarity on Public Charge

Posted October, 13 2021 by Amanda Dunker

The Biden Administration is planning to draft a new public charge rule, and is gathering information before it does so through a public comment process. Advocates have until October 22 to submit their comments (you can read the request for comments here.)

The previous Administration’s expansion of the public charge rule is still harming New Yorkers. The Trump Administration proposed a major expansion of public charge in September 2018. The proposal, if enacted in full, would have meant immigrants who used a long list of public programs could later be denied permanent residency. The final rule was much smaller in scope than what was originally proposed, and did not include health programs like Medicaid.

Further, the final rule was revoked by President Biden in March 2021. But the proposal caused damage in-and-of itself: immigrants who were not subject to the rule still fear enrolling in programs that will help them access health care, even when those programs were not part of the expanded public charge rule. This confusion and fear surrounding the rule is known as the “chilling effect.” Immigrants were afraid to make mistakes that would jeopardize their future here while the rule was in place, and they are still afraid that a future Administration will use their health care needs against them. As many as 260,000 low-income children lost access to desperately needed health care and other services during 2020 because of the chilling effect.

President Biden must address these fears by clearly defining public charge in regulations. Public charge was applied narrowly before the Trump Administration, so narrowly it was almost never used. The new rule should explicitly and narrowly define public charge to avoid future abuses. It should also explicitly list programs that are not subject to public charge, like Medicaid and SNAP. Protecting Immigrant Families has created a sign-on letter for advocates with other recommendations; the deadline to sign on is October 20. Advocates who sign the joint letter should also consider submitting their own individual comments. Another good resource is this Health Affairs blog post.

New York State and the Biden Administration also need to do more to make sure immigrants can access health care:

  • Some New Yorkers are barred from enrolling in public health coverage because of their status. New York could immediately provide relief to those excluded immigrants by passing A880/S1572, which would allow income-eligible immigrants to enroll in the Essential Plan. 
  • At the federal level, the Biden Administration should remove the 5-year bar to becoming eligible for Medicaid coverage.