Many of us know someone who’s been enrolled in a public program or have been enrolled in a public program ourselves. I’ve had family members, friends, and co-workers who were on Medicaid, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). I am grateful that they have been able to stay healthy by having access to affordable preventive care and nutritious food when they most needed it. For nearly two generations, these critical programs have supported millions of individuals and families across the country who are working hard to thrive. We all understand the importance of having our basic needs met, and that’s why as a country, we have consistently committed our tax dollars to funding these programs. But now that’s in jeopardy.
The federal government is currently planning to change immigration rules in a way that will affect access to public programs for both US-born citizens and immigrants seeking legal residency. This change is to what’s known as the “public charge” assessment. Right now, someone seeking to immigrate to the US or seeking a “green card” might be considered a public charge if they personally will be dependent on the government for assistance based on their age, health, family status, resources, education, and other factors. If someone is deemed a public charge, they would be ineligible for legal immigration. However, the draft changes to this policy would deem someone a public charge, and hence, ineligible for legal immigration, if their citizen family members are currently accessing, or have previously accessed, public programs like Medicaid, CHIP, or SNAP.
This will place families in the impossible position of having to choose between keeping their children—who are US citizens and eligible for public programs—healthy, with the help of Medicaid and food assistance, or applying for a green card to become legal residents. If they choose to access public programs for their children, they will remain without documentation and at risk of deportation and family separation; if they choose to continue with the legal immigration process, they risk their children’s health and future. Both options limit their family’s economic security and potential to thrive.
These public charge rules would not only have terrible effects on family safety; they would have dramatic effects on our social safety net, on immigrants, and the very fabric of our society. National estimates show that if they go into effect, the rate of uninsured children with a non-citizen parent would jump from an all-time low of 8% to 14-22%. And we are already seeing families dis-enroll from public programs out of confusion and fear, even though these rules aren’t yet in place. We could also see 500,000 more US citizen children fall into poverty. Fear and stigma would be increased, translating into even more immigrants turning away from schools, hospitals, police, and other core elements of society that we all need to feel safe and thrive.
It is clear, and has been for a while now, that the Trump administration wants to change federal policy to make the US unwelcoming to immigrants. These changes would continue the anti-immigrant trajectory of other recent policy changes, and would be sweeping: the leaked draft shows that public charge would include any use of Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP, WIC, energy assistance programs, housing assistance, and more.
The safety net is there to protect all of us. Whether it’s you or your neighbor that needs support from a public program, you, your neighbor, and all Coloradans benefit when the safety net catches those in need. I like my safety net like I like my communities, tight-knit and resilient, and I’ll be doing everything in my power to protect it. There are a few things we can do in response:
- The rules governing public charge determinations have not yet changed. There may be no advantage to disenrolling from programs now.
- Be ready to comment and protest when the proposed rule is released (the federal government is required to read and respond to all comments, so the greater the volume of comments, the greater the delay of implementation)
- Let your networks know that this is coming and encourage them to submit comments
I hope you’ll join us in this important fight.