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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Merritt Mount and Lisa Stoddard: ‘Public Charge’ proposal would harm War on Poverty

By Merritt Mount and Lisa Stoddard Washington State Community Action Partnership

Community Action Agencies helped begin the War on Poverty in 1964. Nationally, CAAs are bound by a promise to embody the spirit of hope and to care for our entire community. Washington state’s 30 agencies have helped millions of families get closer to their American dream.

We believe communities thrive when people thrive. This includes the immigrants taking citizenship classes at Neighborhood House in Seattle, seeing a doctor at the Yakima Valley Farmworkers Clinic, or accessing any of the legally available services Community Action provides in all 39 counties. In the spirit of hope and care for all, the Washington State Community Action Partnership opposes the Trump administration’s proposed expansion of “Public Charge” immigration criteria.

The United States currently considers whether an immigrant receives direct cash benefits, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, in determining permanent residency. If determined that receiving these benefits could make the applicant a “Public Charge,” this is one factor that may lead to denial of application. The Public Charge rule currently impacts approximately 3 percent of all denials. The new rule would include people accessing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, some housing benefits, and Medicaid. It is important to note these are programs available only to certain documented immigrants and their documented or citizen children. Advocates fear the new criteria could impact up to half of all denials. There is no evidence that such a dramatic expansion of the rule is necessary.

Under the new rule, legally working parents earning minimum wage could be put in line for deportation for providing their children with health care and nutritious food. Policies that punish working families for trying to make ends meet are cruel, regardless of one’s immigration status. When it comes to poverty, however, children in immigrant families are disproportionately impacted. In 2016, 34 percent of Washington children lived in households that struggled to make ends meet. That number was 44 percent for the almost half a million children with one or more foreign-born parents.

The federal government’s climate of hostility toward immigrant communities is already impacting the people we serve. Fear and misinformation are a dangerous combination. Though we are up against a system serving both, we are not deterred. We know no one benefits from children not getting care when they’re sick and falling behind in school. We know no one benefits when families are less secure in their homes and end up on our streets just for trying to scrape together the resources to build a better life. We’re not deterred because we know most Washingtonians know this too.

The Public Charge proposal solves no problem and makes old ones worse. It sets us backward in the fight against poverty, deepens inequity and drives immigrant communities deeper into the shadows. Our broken immigration system needs humane and comprehensive reform, not a fringe ideological effort to target honest families. Community Action will continue to fight for all of the people we serve. The comment period on this proposal closes on December 10. Washingtonians should make their voices heard to the Department of Homeland Security and reject this new proposed rule. The website is https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/10/10/2018-21106/inadmissibility-on-public-charge-grounds.

Merritt Mount is the executive director and Lisa Stoddard is the president of the board of directors of the Washington State Community Action Partnership, an association of Washington State’s 30 Community Action Agencies.

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