ALBANY — Nearly two months after a federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s public charge rule, a widespread chilling effect is still taking place among immigrant communities across the nation and state.
The left-leaning Fiscal Policy Institute found in a study published last week that over 2 million New Yorkers would avoid enrolling in needed public benefits programs to avoid ramifications of the administration’s proposal to tighten public charge standards, obstructing more immigrants’ pathways to permanent legal status or citizenship. As a result, there are concerns that communities could see a public health crisis and economies across the nation would take a hit, advocates say.
“The Trump administration is using ‘public charge’ as a below-the-radar attempt to rewrite our country’s immigration policy by introducing wealth as a yardstick for acceptability in the United States,” David Dyssegaard Kallick, deputy director of FPI and co-author of the report, said in a statement.
Public charge is a test in certain visa and green card applications to determine if someone is likely to become dependent on the government. Previously, the test only penalized those who used cash assistance or institutionalization for long-term care federally funded by Medicaid, however the Trump administration last month expanded the list of benefits that can be considered to include the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), subsidized and public housing, and non-emergency, federally funded Medicaid.
The new rule was scheduled to go into effect Oct. 15, but was challenged in court by multiple states, including New York. Just days before its scheduled rollout, U.S. District Judge George Daniels ruled in favor of Attorney General Letitia James’ challenge, issuing a temporary injunction on the policy proposal.
Despite its halt, immigrants’ rights groups are still concerned about the impacts of public charge, especially if the injunction is eventually lifted.
“We are so overwhelmed and excited to know there have been the federal injunctions because the public charge rule is causing so much fear, and it is just really amazing to know that advocates’ work to fight back has successfully caused the effective date to be stopped,” said Abbey Sussell, public charge fellow at the New York Immigration Coalition.
“It doesn’t change the fact that of course you see in (the FPI) report families are still afraid, they of course are still dropping out of benefits,” Sussell continued, “and it really underlines the fact that we need to continue focus on educating families on the public charge rule and the injunction.”
Some advocates say the confusion around the rule may be exactly what the Trump administration is banking on.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case,” Kallick said. “The administration certainly doesn’t seem concerned about families unenrolling from their benefits.”
According to a study from the Urban Institute, one in seven non-citizen immigrants reported dropping out of a public benefits program in the past year out of fear they would be impacted by the new public charge — even when they didn’t have to.
The new FPI report further found the chilling effect of the new rule would cause a 25% drop in public benefits enrollment across the country.
The drop in health and nutrition enrollment could not only cause a public health crisis, the study found, but would also result in major fiscal losses nationally and statewide. In New York alone, the drop would siphon $1.8 billion in federal benefits and $158 million in state tax revenue, in addition to decreasing the state GDP by $3.6 billion, according to the study.
Sussell stressed that state and local governments continue education campaigns to ensure immigrants and their families remain enrolled in their public benefits programs.
“There’s definitely a good amount of folks who got word about the injunction and stayed in their benefits,” she said of New York City. “But there’s still a lot of work to be done, and from doing presentations and training and speaking with member organizations, there’s still a lot of confusion around public charge that needs to be cleared.”
Massarah Mikati covers the New York State Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find her on Twitter @massarahmikati.