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Comment on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Proposed Rule: Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds

Commentary
December 10, 2018By Janet Bauer

The Oregon Center for Public Policy submitted the following public comment to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), in response to its proposed rule on inadmissibility on public charge grounds.

The Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP) is a non-profit research organization with expertise in a range of policy areas, including health care, housing, nutrition, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, employment, the state economy, and the role of immigrants in our state economy and state budget.

We urge the Department of Homeland Security to withdraw the proposed rule because it would harm thousands of Oregonians by creating barriers to essential health, housing, and nutrition for immigrant families. In so doing, it would undermine the social and economic wellbeing of our communities.

The comments that follow cover how the proposed rule would harm Oregon by forcing large numbers of people integral to our communities to leave, undermine the positive role our immigrants play in our economy, erode the self-sufficiency of immigrant families and the economic potential of their children, and harm the state’s economy and availability of jobs.

The proposed rule is inappropriately broad

The public charge rule was established to determine if an individual is likely to become dependent on the government as their primary source of financial support. Pre-existing rules direct immigration officials to consider use of Social Security, welfare, and long-term institutional care benefits. The current proposal adds a set of non-cash benefits, such as health care, nutrition, and housing services, which are accessed by many Americans who are not primarily dependent on the government for financial support, but rather support themselves through work.

Reliance on any of these proposed additional types of benefits fundamentally reflects the conditions of work for many Americans today, where jobs don’t pay enough to meet the cost of housing and other basic needs, nor offer affordable health insurance to employees. The high costs of living is a reality throughout Oregon: Earlier this year, we reported that one in three Oregon families struggle to afford housing. (Please read Attachment 1: One in Three Oregon Families Struggle to Afford Housing).

In short, the proposed rule is inappropriately broad. Rather than being an indicator of future primary dependence on the government, the proposed expanded list of programs in fact function as a vital supplement to earnings for many Americans who support themselves through work.

Aspiring Americans contribute to making our economy grow

New immigrants are an important part of growing our economy. Our future prosperity depends on our bringing all human resources to the table, and in Oregon, immigrants help drive a number of our key industries. According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, 42 percent of people working in Oregon farms, forests, and fisheries are new immigrants. More than a quarter of the workforce in building cleaning and grounds maintenance are aspiring immigrants. And immigrants make up 17 percent of those who cook and serve food in our state. In short, aspiring immigrants play a vital role in important industries driving the state’s economy today.

The proposed rule would result in loss of many contributing Oregonians

Being inappropriately broad, the proposed rule would harm Oregon by forcing thousands of productive residents from our state and country. Based on U.S. Census data analyzed by the Fiscal Policy Institute, under the proposed benefits test, 26 percent of immigrants in Oregon could be deemed a public charge, meaning our state could lose 61,000 Oregonians who contribute to making our economy grow. That compared to just 3 percent of Oregon immigrants affected by the pre-existing public charge rules.

The proposed rule would harm Oregon’s workforce

The Oregon economy would suffer if the proposed rule were to be enforced. New Americans make up 10 percent of Oregon’s population and 13 percent of our state’s labor force. Thirteen percent of Oregon business owners are immigrants. All told, aspiring Americans account for 12 percent of our state’s gross domestic product. The proposed rule would jeopardize their presence in our state and role in our economy. Researchers have found that immigrant families have significant upward mobility. The children of immigrants are consistently found to be among the strongest contributors to the U.S. economy. They tend to be better educated and greater engines of economic growth than their parents. Pushing out immigrant households today deprives our country of the future generations who would otherwise contribute to making our economy grow. (Please read Attachment 2: “Socioeconomic Dimensions of immigrant Integration,” Chapter 6 in The Integration of Immigrants into American Society).

The proposed rule would undermine work and economic independence

Including the proposed additional set of public benefits in public charge determinations would hinder families’ ability to meet their basic needs as well as work. In addition, these services provide long-term positive benefits for children and communities.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

As mentioned previously, the costs of living throughout Oregon means working families have a hard time making ends meet. Food is one of the first areas of a budget to be compromised when a household is under financial strain. Our analysis of recent data shows that three of every ten Oregon households experiencing food insecurity make too much to qualify for SNAP. This fact indicates that the costs of basic needs are outstripping the wages paid to many in our state. (Please read Attachment 3: Oregon Lags in Fighting Food Insecurity).

SNAP is an important supplemental resource that helps many working households feed their families. In Oregon, households are eligible for SNAP up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, the equivalent of $46,400 for a family of four. One of every eight Oregonians are relying on SNAP this year. Well over a third of them (38 percent) are under the age of 18.

The human cost of food insecurity is profound. Food insecurity fundamentally undermines a person’s physical and mental health. It particularly harms children, who additionally suffer greater rates of birth defects, developmental delays, and lower educational outcomes. (Please read Attachment 4: The Impact of Poverty, Food Insecurity, and Poor Nutrition on Health and Well-Being).

One of the impacts of SNAP’s role in reducing food insecurity is to help working individuals to remain employed, which promotes their economic independence. Including SNAP in public charge determinations would create a barrier to this widespread work support for striving immigrant families. (Please read Attachment 5: How Much Does SNAP Reduce Food Insecurity?).

Medicaid

Having access to health care is a key component of economic security. Multiple studies show that the uninsured are less likely than those with insurance to receive preventive care and treatment for major health issues and chronic conditions. They are also more likely to be hospitalized for avoidable health conditions, to experience declines in their overall health, and to carry medical debt. (Please read Attachment 6: Insurance Coverage, Medical Care Use, and Short-term Health Changes Following an Unintentional Injury or the Onset of a Chronic Condition, Attachment 7: Determinants of Receipt of Recommended Preventive Services: Implications for the Affordable Care Act, Attachment 8: The Relationship of Health Insurance and Mortality: Is Lack of Insurance Deadly?, and Attachment 9: Consumer Experiences with Debt Collection: Findings from the CFPB’s Survey of Consumer Views on Debt.)

For children, health insurance provides critical access to health care. Without health insurance, children are less likely to see a doctor and consequently miss out on an important means of prevention of disease, treatment of acute conditions, and management of chronic illnesses. (Please read Attachment 10: Health Care for All Children: Oregon Thrives When All Kids Have a Chance to Grow Up Healthy).

While many jobs in Oregon come with health insurance, lower-wage occupations are less likely to offer health coverage. Access to public health insurance enables many Oregonians working in lower wage jobs to get needed health care. In 2014, Oregon’s Medicaid program — The Oregon Health Plan — expanded to cover about 375,000 Oregonian adults, many of whom work but cannot afford private health insurance. The Oregon Health Plan covers adults up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $35,000 per year for a family of four. The Oregon Health Plan also covers 340,000 children in households with incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level. In total, the Oregon Health Plan serves one in four Oregonians. (Please read Attachment 11: Employer-sponsored Healthcare Coverage Across Wage Groups and 12: American Health Care Act (introduced in Congress March 6, 2017): Impact on Oregonians.)

Adding Medicaid to the list of benefits considered in making a public charge assessment would be inappropriate, since many who are enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan are not relying on public benefits for their primary source of financial support. Like SNAP, the Oregon Health Plan serves as an important component in the lives of working households, enabling them to remain employed in jobs that do not offer health insurance they can afford, yet enabling access to health care services they need to stay healthy, remain in the workforce or in school. In sum, like for native-born Oregonians, access to SNAP and Medicaid enable Oregon’s aspiring immigrants to contribute in valuable ways to the social and economic life of our communities.

The proposed rule would harm Oregon’s economy

Adding SNAP, Medicaid, and other non-cash supports to the public charge assessment would create barriers to economic opportunity for thousands of productive households in communities throughout Oregon. Adding these programs would make it less likely immigrant households would access the supports vital to their wellbeing and economic future. This would come at an economic cost to them, as well as to our state, as those families would have fewer resources to spend at local businesses.

The Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) estimates that the proposed rule would deter eligible immigrant Oregonians from utilizing SNAP and Medicaid by between 15 percent and 35 percent. Considering a mid-point in that range — 25 percent — FPI estimates the direct economic cost to Oregon households up and down the income spectrum at $200 million annually. This includes the lost dollars paid to health professionals and their support staff, as well as foregone goods and services they purchase to provide their services. Taking into account the ripple effects of the dollars not spent in Oregon communities, the economic cost would rise to $393 million per year. A loss to Oregon’s economy at that level would cost the state about 2,675 jobs.

Conclusion

For reasons that it is inappropriately broad, would cause the loss of many contributing Oregonians, would harm our state’s workforce, would inhibit work and economic independence of households, and would undermine local economies, we urge you to entirely withdraw the proposal related to “public charge.”