In Opposition to the “Public Charge” Rule Change

Swearing-in ceremony officiated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and held at the Community Center in Brentwood, CA — East Bay Times


UPDATE January 29, 2020: On Monday, January 26, the Supreme Court ruled the Trump Administration can move forward with a rule to make it harder for immigrants who rely on public assistance to gain legal status while a court challenge plays out.

On the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of our country’s values, the following words are inscribed, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Over the last two years, these values have been challenged by executive orders and rulings that shut out our immigrant community.

As an organization focused on strengthening the Bay Area by breaking the cycle of poverty, Tipping Point Community stands with immigrants and believes in the power of opportunity, not in the removal of rights and resources that make it harder to achieve self-sufficiency.

Homeland Security’s proposal to expand the “Public Charge” rule is the latest threat to our immigrant community and we stand in opposition to it because of the adverse effects it will have on low-income communities working to get out of poverty.

While this rule change hasn’t captured public attention like the proposed changes to DACA or family separations at the border, it is equally mean-spirited and consequential for our immigrant neighbors. We encourage our community to learn about it and use their voice in opposition.

What is a Public Charge?

Since the 1990s, the federal government has labeled legal immigrants “Public Charges” if they applied for and received cash assistance — like Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) — and de-prioritized their applications for Green Cards (permanent work authorization). This rule was established to limit the number of people who are likely to depend on government assistance when they become permanent residents of the United States.

What changes are being proposed?

The Trump Administration has proposed a change to these rules that would dramatically expand the definition of “Public Charge” to include recipients of many more forms of public assistance, such as Section 8 rental assistance, food stamps, and Medicaid. By increasing the number of services whose beneficiaries are considered a public charge, it will discourage hardworking individuals and families from accessing critical services to help them achieve self-sufficiency, disrupting efforts to break the cycle of poverty.

By penalizing Green Card applicants who have benefitted from these programs, thousands of immigrants are put in an impossible position: accept public assistance needed for health and well-being, or give up that support for fear that it will hurt your immigration status in the US.

What does this mean for our region?

The impact in the Bay Area could be severe. Nearly one third of all households in Alameda County that receive Medi-Cal (the expanded Medicaid program in California) have at least one immigrant who receives these health benefits. Advocates fear that over 20% of those households could drop from coverage in 2019 out of fear that continued enrollment might harm their chances at permanent residency — even the proposal of this rule change has already driven some immigrants and their families to drop benefits.

The effects could ripple from there. When parents opt out of public assistance for fear of their own legal status, their kids are less likely to be enrolled in programs for which they would qualify, hindering immigrant families working to build a path out of poverty.

Grantee Statements

As a funder of programs and policies fighting to break the cycle of poverty, we join our grantees and partners in vocal opposition to the Public Charge rule change, and in sounding the alarm about its impact on the people we serve.

Canal Alliance: “Expansion of the public charge rule will have a devastating impact on children, families and communities. Children will be harmed under this proposal, as parent and child health are inextricably linked. If adults lose access to nutrition supports under SNAP, the entire family will have less to eat. And immigrant families already have been dropping off of programs in response to press accounts about public charge.”

Mission Asset Fund: “The proposed rule characterizes toxic America values that fail to acknowledge and respect the contributions of all immigrants regardless of financial status. This is a cruel and unjust dilemma to impose on low-income immigrant families. But the fact of the matter is, this proposed rule will not affect low-income immigrant families alone. It is already causing widespread fear amongst all immigrants–including their US Citizen children.”