On Tuesday, September 17, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HA) introduced the Protect American Values Act that would restrict the Administration from using federal funds to implement its new “public charge” rule scheduled to go into effect on October 15, 2019.

On August 14, 2019 the Administration published a new final rule to expand the definition of “public charge” as it applies to immigrants legally seeking to enter the United States or adjusting their legal status (green card status). Under the new rule, the Administration will now consider use of health care, housing and nutrition programs as a potential sign a person will become a public charge.

The Hirono bill would stop implementation of the change. The Senator said “…the true intent behind the Administration’s public charge rule is to create a climate of fear among immigrant families, and it’s working. I’ve heard from a number of hardworking, taxpaying immigrants in Hawaii, many not even subject to the rule, who are afraid to see their doctor or access essential services.,” She went on to say, “Our bill keeps families together. And our bill supports the rich diversity that has enabled our country to thrive and excel throughout its history. I’m proud that 26 of my colleagues support this legislation already, and I will continue working towards passing it.”

For people entering the country there has been a test of whether an individual legally entering the country will become a public charge to the country based on use of certain human service supports. In evaluating the likelihood that an individual will become primarily dependent on the government, U.S. immigration has looked at cash assistance programs such as TANF or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The government also looks at the affidavit of support which is signed by the immigrant-applicant’s sponsor in evaluating whether a person in the future will become a charge.

Under the new rule the list of publicly-funded programs that immigration may consider when deciding whether someone is likely to become a public charge will now include Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), Section 8 housing assistance and federally subsidized housing and expands cash assistance to include not just TANF and SSI but any state or local cash assistance program. The new rule defines a public charge as a person who receives any number of public benefits for more than an aggregate of 12 months over any 36-month period of time. Each benefit counts toward the 12-month calculation so if an applicant receives two different benefits in one month that counts as two-months use of benefits. The new rule does not count emergency health services or Medicaid to people under the age of 21.

The Protect American Values Act has 26 Senate co-sponsors. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center has provided a resource toolkit here. There are at more than a half dozen lawsuits that have been filed against the new rule.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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