On Monday August 12, 2019, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a final rule change that would broaden the regulations for public charge by expanding the definitions of public benefits. We sent an Advocacy Alert a little less than a year ago urging our network to make public comments in opposition to this rule change. You can see that Alert here to learn more.
What is Public Charge?
Public charge is a part of federal immigration law under which someone can be denied a visa or green card if federal officials determine that the person is likely to rely on government support for their livelihood.
Prior to the recent rule change, upon application for permanent resident status, or a Green Card, rules define someone who is immigrating to the US, as a “public charge” if they take cash-based welfare (like TANF- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or Supplemental Security Income, or long-term Medicaid care). Using these programs is counted against the applicant applying for admission or status change.
What is changing?
The new rule announced by DHS will take effect October 15, 2019 and will expand the definition of public charge to include additional programs. Once the new rule is in effect, immigration officials will look more closely at certain factors - such as financial status, health, age, and English language skill - and to determine if an immigrant is using or likely to use:
- Medicaid (EXCEPT FOR emergency Medicaid, Medicaid for pregnant women and people under 21 years old [All Kids, Moms & Babies], or services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, “EBT” or “Food Stamps”)
- Many federal housing programs (Section 8, Housing Vouchers, etc)
- Cash assistance (TANF, SSI, General Assistance)
If an immigrant's income is under 150% of the Federal Poverty Line, this will be counted against them. So even if an immigrant does not use benefits, being eligible for those benefits could still be counted against them.
What is the impact?
Northern Illinois Food Bank, our network and our partners strive to ensure no one in Northern Illinois is hungry. With the implementation of this new rule, there is a strong possibility that there will be a decreased participation in federal feeding programs, either by definition or by fear, that could increase food insecurity rates. We also know that many of our neighbors already make tough choices between rent, utilities, transportation and feeding their selves and their families. The decreased participation in any of the other above mentioned federal assistance programs will make those decisions even direr – thus compounding the food insecurity our neighbors will face.
Northern Illinois Food Bank, our network and our fellow hunger relief partners will have to work harder to serve our neighbors and bridge a potentially widening meal gap.
What can we do?
- Continue to provide food to our neighbors in need.
- As trusted community leaders, we can inform and educate our neighbors about this rule change. Here are some handouts from Protecting Immigrant Families Illinois in English & Spanish to share with our neighbors. Many will be afraid and confused by the change, we can help them understand what is changing and reassure them that our network will continue to be there for them.
- Advocate on behalf of our neighbors. Though this rule is an Administrative Rule change, not a legislative policy, please reach out to your elected officials and let them know how this will impact our neighbors, and the work our network does. Find your elected officials here.