The Gristle

Taking Charge of the Public Charge

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

TAKING CHARGE OF THE PUBLIC CHARGE: Whatcom County Council stepped up last week with an active response to one of the more cruel and counterproductive stances of the Trump administration’s pogrom on immigration, adopting a resolution opposing changes to federal legislation that would reduce health, housing and other social service benefits for immigrant families.

In September, the Trump administration rolled out a proposal that would force an extremely difficult choice on many immigrant families—that their chances of remaining in the United States and lawfully employed here could be at risk if those families sought public benefits such as food assistance or essential health coverage provided through Medicaid, or even enrolling their U.S.-born children in Head Start or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Under a new directive from the federal Dept. of Homeland Security, the proposal would overhaul how the government evaluates whether a would-be immigrant is “not likely to be a public charge” (a requirement of many visa categories and green card applications). Nationwide, more than 19 million—or one in four (25 percent) children live in a family with an immigrant parent, and nearly nine in ten (86 percent) of these children are citizens.

The DHS rule would expand the definition of “public charge” for immigration purposes and therefore prevent permanent legal residency for immigrants.

“The proposed ‘public charge’ definition places an impossible choice before immigrant families,” U.S. Senate Democrats wrote in response to the proposal. “If a migrant child falls ill, he may lose eligibility for a green card, and if a parent runs out of money to feed their family, the parent will become ineligible as well. This proposed rule will cause tremendous harm to the health and well-being of thousands of children, citizen and immigrant alike.”

The proposed change runs directly counter to Whatcom County’s 2013 call for a more compassionate community approach to public health-related services, which found that immigrant families often avoid seeking needed medical and social services—even police aid—out of fear of detention and deportation or loss of their permanent residency status.

“Whatcom County may face increased demands for assistance from immigrants and their families resulting from changes to the ‘public charge’ definition because fewer individuals will be able to access federal benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Section 8 housing vouchers and healthcare services,” Council noted in their resolution last week. Meanwhile, “Whatcom County administers federal programs, and changes to federal laws could impose burdensome new tracking and reporting requirements for local offices that administer these programs.”

Council committee chair Barbara Brenner, with support from Tyler Byrd, became fixated on the colorful issue of whether immigrants are legally in the country, but the distinction is academic when the subject is public costs associated with trauma, mental illness and communicable disease. These carry costs borne by local governments regardless of immigrant status. Moreover, the parsing undermines the very message of unconditional support from the social services and medical community to those seeking assistance.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), representing the nation’s nearly 3,000 local governmental health departments, strongly opposes immigration policy that unfairly discriminates against immigrants with respect to education, employment, basic human rights, and social welfare.

“Our local public health departments are here to protect and preserve the health and well-being of the communities they support, especially the most vulnerable among us,” the organization noted in a press release. “Clearly, public health will be compromised if families are too afraid to access vital services, fearing the loss of permanent residency status.”

“Limited or reduced access to support programs will affect immigrant health, financial stability, and the healthy development of their children,” county health officials noted in comments to the proposed DHS rule.

“This deeply misguided policy will not ensure ‘self-sufficiency’ among immigrants, nor will it help hospitals, which will see a further rise in costs and frequency of emergency care that will result from the drop in use and accessibility of preventive services,” Sen Patty Murray commented on the proposed DHS rule. “In addition, this policy will have a significant impact on programs not implicated in the text of proposed rule. Immigrant families are likely to refuse services for which they are eligible out of fear of possible reprisal for using these services—leading to numerous adverse consequences for children and families’ educational outcomes, health, and general well-being. This policy will have a detrimental effect on the children of lawful immigrants and their future generations, further hindering their paths to success.”

When Congress expanded the definition of ‘public charge’ in 1996, it rejected a definition of ‘public charge’ that would have included food and health care assistance. Meanwhile, as documented by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children who receive essential preventive care and services through Medicaid and CHIP coverage have better health and educational outcomes later in life, as compared to eligible children who do not receive such coverage, she and other Senate Democrats noted in their comments.

“Expanding the definition of ‘public charge’ would therefore both ignore the legislative intent and undermine critical health care programs for children and their families,” they wrote.

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Past Columns
Ranker Unanchored

January 16, 2019

‘Alternative Methods’

January 9, 2019

Top Stories, 2018

January 2, 2019

Et Tu, #MeToo

December 26, 2018

Turn That Corner

December 19, 2018

Paradigms in Collision

November 28, 2018

Leftover Turkey

November 21, 2018

The Divisions Between Us

November 14, 2018

The Map is the Territory

November 7, 2018

Climate Kids

October 31, 2018

What The Market Won’t Bear

October 24, 2018

As Above, So Below

October 17, 2018

As Below, So Above

October 10, 2018

A Civil Disagreement

October 3, 2018

Zombie Pipeline

September 26, 2018

Too Little, Too Late

September 19, 2018

Open Secret Disclosed

September 12, 2018

Consent of the Governed

September 5, 2018

Let the People Decide

August 29, 2018

Events
Today
Bellinghamster One-Act Theater Festival (BOAT)

7:00pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Cascadia Weekly's Fiction 101 Contest

10:00am

A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Call to Artists for Spring Juried Exhibit

10:00am|Jansen Art Center

Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

10:00am

Wild Things

9:30am|Lake Padden Park

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Books and Bites

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Peace Vigil

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Art Auction Gala

5:30pm|Lightcatcher Building

Photography Exhibit Opening

6:00pm|Fourth Corner Frames and Gallery

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Quieting the Monkey Mind

7:00pm|Village Books

Urinetown

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Space Trek

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Sanford-Hill Piano Series

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

VoicePlay

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Courthouse Vaudeville

7:30pm|Territorial Whatcom County Courthouse

Village Books
Tomorrow
Bellinghamster One-Act Theater Festival (BOAT)

7:00pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Cascadia Weekly's Fiction 101 Contest

10:00am

Call to Artists for Spring Juried Exhibit

10:00am|Jansen Art Center

Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

10:00am

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Urinetown

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Space Trek

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Martin Luther King, Jr. Conference

9:00am|Whatcom Community College

Larrabee Old Growth Exploration

9:00am|Fairhaven Parkway Park & Ride

Winter Fitness Hike

10:00am|Whistle Lake

Winter Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Plant Classes

10:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am|Rockport, Concrete, Marblemount

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am|Skagit County

The Basics of Sprouting

10:00am|Blaine Library

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Washington Remembers

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

When voices are silenced

12:00pm

MONA Openings

1:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Travel to the Philippines

1:30pm|Blaine Library

Rioja Tasting

2:00pm|Siefert & Jones Wine Merchants

Bellingham Roller Betties' Double Header

5:30pm|Lynden Skateway

An Evening with the Artist

6:00pm|Gallery Pegasus

Be IN the Show

6:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Unity Ball

7:00pm|The Majestic

Blue Abode Comedy Show

7:00pm|Blue Adobe Bar

Time Travel Sound Sessions

7:00pm|Anacortes Museum

The Shame of Losing

7:00pm|Village Books

Eagle Talk

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

Hot House at the Courthouse

7:30pm|Territorial Whatcom County Courthouse

Fire and Grace

7:30pm|First Congregational Church

Choir of Man Village Books
Sunday
Cascadia Weekly's Fiction 101 Contest

10:00am

Call to Artists for Spring Juried Exhibit

10:00am|Jansen Art Center

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Urinetown

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am|Skagit County

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Sedro-Woolley Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Nookachamps Winter Runs

9:00am|Skagit Valley College

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am|Rockport, Concrete, Marblemount

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Sips of the Season

1:00pm|Galloway's Cocktail Bar

Bill Evans

2:00pm|Nancy's Farm

Resolutions with the Bellingham Chamber Music Society

3:00pm|First Congregational Church of Bellingham

Poetry with Douglas Cole

4:00pm|Village Books

Seven Comedians

7:00pm|Upfront Theatre

see our complete calendar »

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