City officials try to dispell fears as ‘public charge’ rule goes into effect

Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Bitta Mostofi said that the city would keep fighting against the Trump administration’s ‘public charge’ rule at a press conference on Feb. 24, 2020. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

The new ‘public charge’ rule does not change who can receive public benefits like food stamps, Medicaid or cash assistance, New York City officials and immigration advocates said on Monday, Feb. 24. 

“There is no New Yorker that should stop using all the benefits that they are entitled to,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks during a press conference at the city’s Department of Social Services in lower Manhattan. “We are urging anyone with questions about public charge to call the ActionNYC hotline…1-800-354-0365.”

Banks was joined by Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Bitta Mostofi, Assistant Vice President of Ambulatory Care Operations of NYC Health +Hospitals Chris Keeley, Assistance Commissioner of the Bureau of Epidemiology Services at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Hannah Gould, Associate Director for the New York State Department of Health’s Center for Community Health Angella Timothy, Attorney-in-Charge of the Immigration Law Unit for the Legal Aid Society Hasan Shafiqullah, Executive Director of the Asian American Federation Jo-Ann Yoo, Supervising Attorney for Make the Road New York Jessica Young and Public Charge Fellow for the New York Immigration Coalition Abbey Sussell. 

Hasan Shafiqullah (left) from the Legal Aid Society and Commissioner of the Department of Social Services Steven Banks discuss details of Trump’s ‘public charge’ rule at a press conference located at the Department of Social Services on Feb 24, 2020. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

The Trump administration’s changes to the ‘public charge’ rule took effect on Monday, allowing the government to deny green cards and some visas to foreigners who they think will rely on government benefits like food stamps and housing vouchers, burdening taxpayers and making them a ‘public charge.’ In January, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the ‘public charge’ allowing the rule to implemented every state except Illinois. But on Friday, the Trump administration overcame that hurdle after the supreme court voted to lift the Illinois injunction. 

Under the old ‘public charge’ rule, immigrants could be denied green cards if they received welfare cash assistance or some other form of cash assistance like the federal income supplement program, Supplemental Security Income, according to Shafiqullah. “If you had an affidavit of support, somebody that could say I have enough money to support this person…they [immigration] would say OK… now you’re good,” added Shafiqullah. The Trump administration’s ‘public charge’ rule more closely examines immigrants’ financial resources.  

Under the new rule,  immigrants who are under 18 years old, older than 61 years old, do not speak English fluently, have filed bankruptcy in their home countries, have poor credit, have debt or who have medical issues could face issues getting a green card or visa. Immigrants who have an annual income below the federal poverty line, do not have health insurance or who are not full-time or part-time students would also face challenges. Also, immigrants who have used a certain amount of benefits over three years, would also not be allowed into the country or denied a green card. Health, education and family size will also be determining factors, city agents said that the Monday press conference. Critics of the rule view it as wealth and health test for those trying to enter the country that will inevitably change the makeup of immigrants in the United States.  

The Trump administration first announced plans to implement a new charge rule in August of last year. Since then, some have stopped applying or using public benefits out of fear of being deported or other status-related consequences. According to the New York Office of Immigrant Affairs, the number of people enrolling for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) has declined over the last five years. But the decline in enrollment accelerated in 2019 particularly in zip-codes with the city’s largest number of non-citizens even though WIC enrollment is not used as a determining factor for whether or not someone is a ‘public charge.’ Advocates and city officials worried that new rule will further deter some New Yorkers from receiving other public benefits or health care. Keely urged new New Yorkers to keep going to their doctors and for those looking for medical care to continue their search. The ‘public charge’ rule does necessarily impact every immigrant’s access to care at NYC Health +Hospitals, Keely added. 

“This is a harmful rule…because it is so in confusion, it is creating fear,” said Banks.