September 3, 2019
The federal government last month finalized a rule that declares someone seeking entry into the United States or legal permanent residency a financial burden to the government if they use public benefits such as housing assistance, health insurance and food stamps.
The changes to that “Public Charge” assessment have raised concerns among immigrant clients and questions among Multnomah County staff.
changes to immigration rules will impact clients who receive county services
Public Charge is an assessment made by immigration officials on whether people entering the country or seeking a visa or green card are likely to rely on public benefits in the future. Historically the rule only weighed two kinds of public assistance — cash assistance and long-term care.
Last year the federal government proposed expanding the Public Charge rule to include health, housing and food benefits. Multnomah County’s Board of Commissioners was among thousands of government bodies, state agencies, nonprofits and community to oppose those changes. Nonetheless, the final rule(link is external) is set to take effect Oct. 15, 2019.
Multnomah County staff help clients access a number of benefits that will soon be subject to that rule, including:
the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Housing assistance including public housing, Section 8 vouchers and rental assistance
Oregon and more than a dozen other states have filed lawsuits(link is external) to try and stop it. But the outcome of those suits is unclear.
Chair Deborah Kafoury is asking staff across all County departments to spread this message: Multnomah County will continue to welcome all people who need services, without regard to race, origin, immigration status, or ability to pay for services.
Kafoury said she’s sorry she can’t say the same for the federal government.
“The administration's changes to Public Charge hurt the safety and well being of families in our community and across the nation,” Kafoury said. “It’s bad policy that undermines access to healthcare, housing and healthy foods, it and places our entire community at risk.”
Many are exempt
Many immigrants are not subject to the rule, including refugees and asylees, naturalized citizens, and people who already have green cards and are applying for citizenship. The use of public benefits alone will not determine whether a person would be denied entry or a green card. And even for those who used housing, health and food benefits, only benefits used after Oct. 15 will be considered in immigration determinations.
There are also many programs unaffected by the rule change, including:
Medicaid for children under 21 and pregnant women (including 60 days after giving birth)
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program
Special education services covered by Medicaid and funded by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)
Health care services based in schools
Oregon’s Cover All Kids Program
Most services offered by Oregon’s Reproductive Health Program
But the chilling effect of the new rule began months before it became final. As soon as the change was proposed last year social and health services providers across the County reported clients dropping out of programs and missing appointments even in programs and among immigrant residents who would not be affected by the change.
That has led department leadership to speak out in hopes that immigrant residents will hear that they should — and are steadfastly welcome to — continue receiving needed services.
“The Multnomah County Health Department is committed to serving everyone who needs care. We will serve you regardless of your immigration status and regardless of your ability to pay,” said Health Department Director Patricia Charles-Heathers. “Please talk to an immigration attorney if you are worried about this rule change. And remember: We will serve you no matter what happens in Washington D.C.”
Peggy Brey, director of the Department of County Human Services, also urges clients to learn more and stay connected. The Human Services department supports families seeking housing and nutritional programs.
“The Department of County Human Services assists and cares for all of our community members. We encourage those who may be impacted by this rule change to consult with an immigration attorney to see how this rule change could affect them,” Brey said.
Clients who have legal questions should consult an immigration attorney(link is external) or call Oregon’s Public Benefits Hotline at 800-520-5292.
More on Public Charge
Oregon Immigration Resource(link is external): A network of nonprofits and legal firms that provide information and workshops to families and agencies, working in partnership with the Oregon Law Center to create materials in multiple languages.
Protecting Immigrant Families(link is external): A partnership between the Center for Law and Social Policy and the National Immigration Law Center. Sign up for news alerts, download fact sheets in English and Spanish.
Immigration Legal Resources
AILA Oregon(link is external): The Oregon Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association is a network of licensed attorneys with an understanding of the complexities of immigration law.
SOAR immigration legal services(link is external): Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees offers low-cost immigration representation and education to low-income families.
ICS(link is external): Immigration Counseling Services is a nonprofit law firm offering lower-cost immigration legal services and education.
Catholic Charities of Oregon(link is external): This nonprofit's Immigration Legal Services office offers low-cost immigration representation to low-income immigrant and refugee families, and coordinates workshops across the state.
Immigrant Law Group(link is external): This Portland law firm hosts a resource page and volunteers at workshops.