New federal rule would increase hardship among New Americans

Clark Goldenrod
Sep 24, 2018

This weekend, draft language for a new “public charge” rule was released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This rule would make it harder for New Americans on their path to citizenship and folks moving to the country to thrive and to fully contribute to our communities and the economy.

This draft rule judges the value of New Americans by how much money they have, rather than how they live their lives and contribute to their communities. Currently, when people apply to adjust their immigration status, like applying for a “green card” that allows New Americans to live and work in the U.S., the government determines whether that person has “public charge” status. This status is based on a number of factors, including age, health, family status, financial status, and skills, but also includes use or potential use of public supports. Under current policy, only two types of supports are counted to determine “public charge” status: cash assistance (like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF) and use of long-term care facilities. The same process occurs when people apply to move to the U.S. Having “public charge” status can make individuals ineligible to come to the United States or receive a green card.

The new rule would greatly expand how “public charge” is determined in the future and would harm families trying to put a roof over their head or buy groceries to feed growing kids. The draft rule proposes adding supports like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing assistance, and Medicaid health insurance to the list of services considered in evaluating “public charge” status. Additionally, while it is not in the current rule, DHS has expressed interest in also including the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

The new rule also would require that New Americans earn at least 125 percent of the poverty line to not be negatively affected by the “public charge” determination. The rule would also adopt a threshold of 250 percent of the poverty line (or almost $63,000 for a household of four) for a family to receive a favorable consideration. For context, around 40 percent of people living in the United States earn less than this standard. People often move to the United States in search of greater economic opportunity, but the rule sends the message that only New Americans who already have money and resources are welcome.

The new rule goes against our country’s basic values. Our government has long held that certain supports, such as those that improve health, should be available to everyone who needs them. The rule also ignores how New Americans are contributing to our communities, as our neighbors who work, pay taxes, and learn alongside us. But the new rule abandons this logic and explicitly recognizes that it may “increase the poverty of certain families and children, including U.S. citizen children.”

This rule would likely create confusion around who can access basic supports that many of us turn to in times of need. Those harmed include the New Americans who are unsure whether they can still qualify for basic services, like food and housing assistance, as well as many children who might not get the supports they need to remain healthy and succeed in school. And New American families are already dropping off certain supports in response to concerns about these changes.

This new proposed rule further continues a pattern of federal lawmakers prioritizing those who are already doing well in today’s economy. For example, late last year federal policymakers passed a large tax bill that overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and profitable corporations. These tax cuts have increased the federal deficit, and since then, purportedly in response to the increased deficit, President Donald Trump and the U.S. House have proposed funding cuts that would increase hardship and poverty across the nation. The new proposed rule is the latest step that would further pull out the rug from families who are trying to make ends meet. Additionally, the rule would disproportionately affect people of color, who are more likely to come to the United States through the primary process subject to public charge determination.

This proposed rule is a mistake. New Americans are vital contributors to our communities, and they should be able to receive basic supports so that they can thrive and build our economy. The draft rule is expected to be included in the Federal Register in the next few weeks, perhaps as early as tomorrow. You will have an opportunity to have your concerns heard by making a comment on this proposal; we’ll post information about how to do so once the comment period is open.

-Clark Goldenrod