What "Public Charge" Means for the Health of our Communities

Raymond Baxter, Ph.D.

On Friday, a federal court in New York blocked the Trump Administration’s proposed public charge rule while courts across the country weigh legal challenges to its implementation. The rule, which was scheduled to take effect today, poses real and meaningful threats to the health and well-being of communities across California, and we are heartened to see it blocked – at least temporarily – but we also know that the fight for a healthier California for all of us isn’t over.

The proposed rule seeks to change a policy regulating the future status of immigrants who are deemed likely to use public benefits. By issuing the new rule, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intends to redefine a “public charge” – previously a person who is “likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence” – as a person who is likely to “receive one or more public benefit” within any 36-month period. The rule also expands the list of benefits that can affect someone’s future status. On paper, the rule broadens and redefines restrictions on future eligibility for resident status based on likely use of government services.

We know that the fight for a healthier California – for all of us – isn’t over.

The reality of what that means for many of our neighbors, however, is at once simpler and more severe: the proposed rule perpetuates and accelerates a climate of fear, division, and confusion that discourages participation in important health services and threatens immediate and lasting negative health consequences for communities across California.

A child walks in front of a muralA recent survey in San Diego County found that the fear and confusion resulting from the rule will discourage undocumented residents – including those with children who are U.S. citizens – from accessing preventive health services, emergency health care, immunization services, and reduced-price school meals – not just for themselves, but for their children as well. In California, half of our children have at least one parent who is an immigrant, and in families that include non-citizen immigrants, almost 90% of children are U.S. citizens.

For decades, public health professionals and policymakers have worked to streamline eligibility and access to housing, health, social, and nutritional services, acting on the evidence that each individual or family’s health contributes to a community’s health – that we are all connected in our pursuit of a healthier, safer society.

We believe that when all members of our communities, both newcomers and long-term residents, can contribute fully, our communities will be healthier, and our shared future will be brighter.

Mother holding childAs a Foundation, we believe that all people should be treated with respect and have access to services and opportunities that allow them to thrive. We believe that when all members of our communities, both newcomers and long-term residents, can contribute fully, our communities will be healthier, and our shared future will be brighter. When we strengthen the bonds of community and work together, we can create a California full of possibility and opportunity for all of us.

That’s why we will continue to oppose the implementation of the public charge rule, and why we will keep doing all we can to protect the health of all Californians. I hope you’ll join us. No matter who you are – a grantmaker, a leader in your community, or just someone who wants your neighborhood to be healthy – your voice is necessary in stopping this policy and condemning the division it seeks to drive. But more than that, your work has never been more important to help make our shared California dream a reality and ensure that our communities are safe, supportive, and healthy for all of us.

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